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I Lat Bahadur Shastri Acadamy of Administration 

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Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 of French 
and Spanish parentage. He was brought up in North 
Africa and had many jobs there (one of them playing 
goal for the Algiers football team) before he came to 
Metropolitan France and took up journalism. He was 
active in the resistance during the German occu- 
pation and became editor of the clandestine paper 
Combat, Before the war he had written a play 
Caligula (1939), and during the war the two books 
which brought him fame, U Etr anger {The Outsider) 
and Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Abandoning politics and 
journalism he devoted himself to writing and estab- 
lished an international reputation with such books as 
La Peste {The Plague) (1947), Les Just es (1949), and 
La Chute {The Fall) (1956). The Plague ^ The FalL 
The Outsider^ A Happy Death and Exile and the 
Kingdom have been published in Penguins along with 
Selected Essays and Notebooksy a collection of early 
essays, verse, parables and fairy tales in Youthful 
Writings^ and his philosophical statement on the 
problem of suicide. The Myth of Sisyphus, He was 
aw^arded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Id 
J anuary i960 he was killed in a road accident. 



Translated by Anthor^ Bower 


in association with Hamish Hamilton 

Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England 
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Penguin Books (^N.Z.) Ltd, 1 82- 190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand 

L' Homme rrvolte first published 1951 
'I'his translation first published by Hamish Hamilton 1953 
Published in Peregrine Books 1962 
Reprinted 1965, 1967, 1969 
Reissued in Penguin Modern Classics 1971 
Reprinted 1973. *974. >975. >977. >978, 1981, 1982 

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FOREWORD by Sir Herbert Read 7 




The Sons of Cain 3 ^ 

A Man of Letters 33 

The Dandy^s Rebellion 43 

The Rejection of Salvation 50 

Absolute Affirmation 57 

Nihilism and History 72 


The Regicides 82 

The New Gospel 84 

The Execution of the King 87 

The Religion of Virtue 9 ^ 

The Terror 94 

The Deicides 103 

Individual Terrorism 118 

The Renunciation of Virtue 1 1 9 

Three of the Possessed 122 

The Fastidious Assassins 133 

The Path of Chigalev 142 

State Terrorism and Irrational Terror 146 

State Terrorism and Rational Terror 156 

The Bourgeois Prophecy 157 

The Revolutionary Prophecy 165 

The Check to the Prophecy 177 

The Kingdom of Ends 192 



Totality and Trial 199 

Rebellion and Revolution 212 


Rebellion and the Novel 224 

Rebellion and Style 233 

Creation and Revolution 237 


Rebellion and Murder 243 

Nihilistic Murder 246 

Historic Murder 250 

Moderation and Excess 258 

Thought at the Meridian 261 

Beyond Nihilism 266 


With the publication of this book a cloud that has oppressed the 
European mind for more than a century begins to lift. After an age 
of anxiety, despair, and nihilism, it seems possible once more to hope 
- to have confidence again in man and in the future. M. Camus has 
not delivered us by rhetoric, or by any of the arts of persuasion, but 
by the clarity of his intelligence. His book is a work of logic. Just as 
an earlier work of his {Le My the de Sisyphe) began with a meditation 
on living or not living - on the implications of the act of suicide; so 
this work begins with a meditation on enduring or not enduring - on 
the implications of the act of rebellion. If we decide to live, it must 
be because we have decided that our personal existence has some 
positive value; if we decide to rebel, it must be because we have 
decided that a human society has some positive value. But in each 
case the values are not ‘given’ - that is the illusionist trick played by 
religion or by philosophy. They have to be deduced from the con- 
ditions of living, and are to be accepted along with the suffering 
entailed by the limits of the possible. Social values are rules of 
conduct implicit in a tragic fate; and they offer a hope of creation. 
The Rebeiy that is to say, offers us a philosophy of politics. It is a 
kind of book that appears only in France, devoted, in a passionate 
intellectual sense, to the examination of such concepts as liberty and 
terror. Not that it is a theoretical work - on the contrary, it is an 
examination of the actual situation of Europe today, informed by a 
precise historical knowledge of the past two centuries of its social 
development. It is ‘an attempt to understand the times’, 

Camus believes that revolt is one of the ‘essential dimensions’ of 
mankind. It is useless to deny its historical reality - rather we must 
seek in it a principle of existence. But the nature of revolt has changed 
radically in our times. It is no longer the revolt of the slave against 
the master, nor even the revolt of the poor against the rich; it is a 



, metaphysical revolt, the revolt of man against the conditions of life, 
against creation itself. At the same time, it is an aspiration towards 
clarity and unity of thought - even, paradoxically, towards order. 
That, at least, is what it becomes under the intellectual guidance of 

He reviews the history of this metaphysical revolt, beginning with 
the absolute negation of Sade, glancing at Baudelaire and the 
‘dandies’, passing on to Stimer, Nietzsche, Lautriamont, and the 
Surrealists.^ His attitude to these prophetic figures is not unsym- 
pathetic, and once more it is interesting to observe the influence of 
Andr^ Breton on the contemporary mind. Camus then turns to the 
history of revolt in the political sense, his main object being to draw a 
clear distinction between ij^Uion and revdution. Here, and not for 
the first time, Camus’ ideas come close to anarchism, for he recog- 
nizes that revolution always implies the establishment of a new 
government, whereas rebellion is action without planned issue - it is 
spontaneous protestation. Camus reviews the history of the French 
Revolution, of the regicides and deicides, and shows how inevitably, 
from Rousseau to Stalin, the course of revolution leads to authori- 
tarian diaatorship. Saint- Just is the precursor of Lenin. Even 
Bakunin, to whom Camus devotes some extremely interesting pages 
(pointing out, for example, that he alone of his time, with exceptional 
profundity, declared war against the idolatry of science) - even 
Bakunin, if we examine the statutes of the Fraternity Internationale 
(1864-7) which he drew up, is found insisting on the absolute sub- 
ordination of the individual to a central committee of action. 

. All revolutions in modem times, Camus points out, have led to a 
reinforcement of the power of the State. ‘The strange and terrifying 
growth of the modem State can be considered as the logical con- 
clusion of inordinate technical and philosophical ambitions, foreign 
to the true spirit of rebellion, but which nevertheless gave birth to 
the revolutionary spirit of our time. The prophetic dream of Marx 
and the over-inspired predictions of Hegel or of Nietzsche ended by 

* Unfortunately in the interests of economy certain pages relating to some 
of these figures hare been deleted in the English edition. 



conjuring up, after the Qty of God had been razed to the ground, 
either a rational or an irrational State, but one which in both cases 
was founded on terror.’ The counter-revolutions of fascism only 
serve to reinforce the general argument. 

Camus shows the real quality of his thought in his final pages. It 
would have been easy, on the facts marshalled in this book, to have 
retreated into despair or inaction. Camus substitutes the idea of 
‘limits’. ‘We know at the end of this long inquiry into rebellion and 
nihilism that rebellion with no other limits but historical expediency 
signifies unlimited slavery. To escape this fate, the revolutionary 
mind, if it wants to remain ahve, must therefore return again to the 
sources of rebellion and draw its inspiration from the only system of 
thought which is faithful to its origins; thought which recognizes 
limits.’ To illustrate his meaning Camus refers to syndicalism, that . 
movement in politics which is based on the organic unity of the cell, 
and which is the negation of abstract and bureaucratic centralism. He * 
quotes Tolain: ^Les etres hurnains ne s^^mancipent qu*au sein des 
groupes naturels^ - human beings emancipate themselves only on the 
basis of natural groups. ‘The masses against the State, deliberate 
freedom against rational tyranny, finally, altruistic individualism 
against the colonization of tlie masses, are thus the contradictions 
that express once again the endless opposition of moderation to 
excess which has animated the history of the Occident since the time 
of the ancient world.’ This tradition of *mesure* belongs to the 
Mediterranean world, and has been destroyed by the excesses of 
German ideology and of Christian othcrworldliness - by the denial 
of nature. 

Restraint is not the contrary of revolt. Revolt carries with it the 
very idea of restraint, and ‘moderation, born of rebellion, can only 
live by rebellion. It is a perpetual conflict, continually created and 
mastered by the intelligence . . . Whatever we may do, excess will 
always keep its place in the heart of man, in the place where solitude 
is found. We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, and 
our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to 
fight them in ourselves and in others. Rebellion, the secular will not 



to surrender of which Barris speaks, is still, today, at the basis of the 
struggle. Origin of form, source of teal life, it keeps us always erect in 
the savage formless movement of history.* 

In his last pages Camus rises to heights of eloquence which are 
exhilarating. It is an inspiring book. It is particularly a book which 
should be read by all those who wish to see the inborn impulse of 
revolt inspired by a new spirit of action ~ by those who understand 
‘that rebellion caimot exist without a strange form of love*. Not to 
calculate, to give everything for the sake of life and of living men - in 
that way we can show that ‘real generosity towards the future lies in 
giving all to the present*. 

Herbert Read 


There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The line that 
divides them is not clear. But the Penal CxKle distinguishes between 
them by the useful concept of premeditation. We are living in the 
era of premeditation and perfect crimes. Our criminals are no longer 
those helpless children who pleaded love as their excuse. On the 
contrary, they are adults, and they have a perfect alibi: philosophy, 
which can be used for anything, even for transforming murderers 
into judges. 

Heathdilf, in Wuthering Heights^ would kill everybody on earth 
in order to gain Cathie, but he would never think of saying that 
murder is reasonable or theoretically defensible. He would commit 
it; there his theory comes to a halt. This implies powerful love and 
it implies character. Since intense love is rare, such murders are 
uncommon, and they retain an air of waywardness. But as soon as a 
man, through lack of charaaer, takes refuge in a doctrine, as soon as 
he makes his crime reasonable, it multiplies like Reason herself and 
assumes all the figures of the syllogism. It was unique like a cry; 
now it is universal like science. Yesterday, it was put on trial; today 
it is the law. 

This is not the place for indignation. The purpose of this essay is 
once more to accept the reality of today, which is logical crime, and to 
examine meticulously the arguments by which it is sustained; it is an 
attempt to understand the time 1 live in. One might think that a 
period which, within fifty years, uproots, enslaves, or kills seventy 
million human beings, should only, and forthwith, be condemned. 
But also its guilt must be understood. In more ingenuous times, when 
the tyrant razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave 
chained to the conqueror’s chariot was dragged through the rejoicing 
streets, when enemies were thrown to wild animals in front of the 
assembled people, before such naked crimes consciousness could be 



Steady and judgement unclouded. But slave camps under the flag 
of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or the taste 
for the superhuman, cripple judgement. On the day when crime 
puts on the apparel of innocence, through a curious reversal pecu- 
liar to our age, it is innocence that is called on to justify itself. 
The purpose of this essay is to accept and study that strange 

It is a question of finding out whether innocence, the moment it 
begins to act, can avoid committing murder. We can act only in our 
own time, among the people who surround us. We shall be capable of 
nothing until we know whether we have the right to kill our fellow- 
men, or the right to let them be killed. Since all contemporary action 
leads to murder, direa or indirect, we cannot act until we know 
whether, and why, we have the right to kill. 

What matters here is not to follow things back to their origins, but, 
the world being what it is, to know how to live in it. In the age of 
negation, it was of some avail to examine one’s position concerning 
suicide. In the age of ideologies, we must make up our minds about 
murder. If murder has rational foundations, then our period and we 
ourselves have significance. If it has no such foundations, then we are 
plunged in madness and there is no way out except to find some 
significance or to desist. We must in any case give a clear answer to 
the question put to us by the blood and strife of our century. For we 
are being interrogated. Thirty years ago, before making the decision 
to kill, it was the custom to repudiate many things, to the point of 
repudiating oneself by suicide. God is a cheat; the whole world 
(including myself) is a cheat; therefore I choose to die: suidde was 
the question then. But Ideology, a contemporary phenomenon, 
limits itself to repudiating other people; they alone are the cheats. 
This leads to murder. Every dawn masked assassins slip into some 
cell; murder is the question today. 

The two ideas cling together. Or rather they cling to us, and so 
pressingly that we ourselves are no longer able to choose our 
problems. They choose us, one after the other. Let us consent to 
being chosen. This essay proposes to follow, into the realm of murder 



and revolt, a mode of thinking that began with suicide and the idea 
of the absurd ^ 

But this mode of thinking, for the moment, yields only one concept, 
that of the absurd. And the concept of the absurd, in its turn, only 
yields a contradiction where the problem of murder is concerned. 
The sense of the absurd, when one first undertakes to deduce a rule 
of action from it, makes murder seem a matter of indifference, hence, 
permissible. If one believes in nothing, if nothing makes sense, if we 
can assert no value whatsoever, everything is permissible and 
nothing is important. There is no pro or con ; the murderer is neither 
right nor wrong. One is free to stoke the crematory fires, or to give 
one’s life to the care of lepers. Wickedness and virtue are just 
accident or whim. 

" We may then decide not to act at all, which comes down to 
condoning other people’s murder, plus a little fastidious sorrow over 
human imperfection. Or we may hit upon tragic dilettantism as a 
substitute for action; in this case, human lives become counters in a 
game. Finally, we may resolve to undertake some action that is not 
wholly arbitrary. In this case, since we have no higher value to direct 
our action, we shall aim at efficiency. Since nothing is true or false, 
good or bad, our principle will become that of showing ourselves to 
be the most effective, in other words the most powerful. And then the 
world will no longer be divided into the just and the unjust, but into 
masters and slaves. Thus, whichever way wc turn in the depths of 
negation and nihilism, murder has its privileged position. 

Hence, if we profess the absurdist position, we should be ready to 
kill, thus giving logic more weight than scruples we consider illusory. 
Certainly, some compromises will be necessary. But, on the whole, 
fewer than one might suppose - to judge from experience. Besides, 
it is always possible, as we see every day, to have the killing done for 
one. I'hus everything would be settled in accordance with logic, if 
logic were really satisfied. 

But logic cannot find satisfaction in an attitude which indicates 
first that murder is permissible and then that it is impermissible. 



sacrosanct (or, to speak in Christian terms, the world of Grace)"*^ or 
the rebel world. The disappearance of the one is equivalent to the 
appearance of the other, and this appearance can take place in dis- 
concerting forms. Here again we find the attitude of All or Nothing. 
The pressing aspect of the problem of rebellion depends only on the 
fact that nowadays whole societies have wanted to re-examine their 
position in regard to the sacrosanct. We live in an unsacrosanct 
period. Insurrection is certainly not the sum total of human ex- 
perience. But the controversial aspect of contemporary history 
compels us to say that rebellion is one of man’s essential dimensions. 
It is our historical reality. Unless we ignore reality, we must find our 
values in it. Is it possible to find a rule of conduct outside the realm 
of religion and of absolute values ? That is the question raised by 

We have already noted the confused standard of values that are 
called into play by incipient revolt. Now we must inquire if these 
values are to be found in contemporary forms of rebellious thought 
and action and, if they do exist, we must specify their content. But, 
before going any farther, let us note that the basis of these values is 
rebellion itself. Man’s solidarity is founded upon rebellion, and 
rebellion can only be justified by this solidarity. We then have 
authority to say that any type of rebellion which claims the right to 
deny or destroy this solidarity simultaneously loses the right to be 
called rebellion and actually becomes an accomplice to murder. In 
the same way, this solidarity, except in so far as religion is concerned, 
only comes to life on the level of rebellion. And so the real drama of 
revolutionary thought is revealed. In order to exist, man must rebel, 
but rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself - limits 
where minds meet and, in meeting, begin to exist. Revolutionary 
thought, therefore, cannot dispense with memory: it is in a perpetual 
state of tension. In contemplating the results of an act of rebellion, 

* There is, of course, an act of metaphysical rebellion at the beginning of 
Christianity, but the resurrection of Christ and the annunciation of the 
Kingdom of Heaven interpreted as a promise of eternal life are the answers 
that render it futile. 



portant thing was to not die alone, and simultaneously to destroy a 
whole world.(ln a way, the man who kills himself in solitude still 
recognizes a value, since, manifestly, he claims no right to the lives 
of other people.^he proof of this is that he never uses, in order to 
dominate others, the terrible strength and freedom which he gains 
from his decision to die; every act of solitary self-destruction, when 
it does not proceed from passion, is in some way generous or scorn- 
ful. But one is scornful on behalf of something. If the world is a 
matter of indifference to the suicide, this is because he has an idea of 
something which is not or could not be indifferent to him. One thinks 
that one will destroy everything or take everything along with one; 
but from this very death a value arises which would, perhaps, have 
justified existence. Absolute negation is therefore not achieved by 
suicide. It can be achieved only by absolute destruction, of both one- 
self and everybody else. Or at least it can be experienced only by 
striving toward that delectable end. Suicide and murder are thus two 
aspects of a single system, the system of an unhappy intellect which 
rather than suffer limitation chooses the dark victory which anni- 
hilates earth and heaven. 

Equally, if one denies that there are grounds for suicide, one can- 
not claim them for murder. One cannot be a part-time nihilist. 
Absurdist reasoning cannot defend the continued existence of its 
^ spokesman and accept the sacrifice of others’ lives. The moment we 
recognize the impossibility of absolute negation (and living is a 
manner of recognizing this) the very first thing that cannot be denied 
is the right of others to live. Thus, the self-same notion which 
allowed us to think that murder was a matter of indifference now 
undermines its justifications; wc are back in the untenable position 
from which we tried to escape. In practice, this line of reasoning tells 
us at one and the same time that killing is permissible and that it is 
not permissible. It abandons us in contradiction, with no grounds for 
forbidding murder or for justifying it, menacing and exposed to 
menace, driven by an entire world intoxicated with nihilism, and yet 
lost in loneliness, with knives in our hands and a lump in our throats. 
Nothing remains in the absurdist attitude which can help us answer 



the questions of our time. The absurdist method, like that of 
systematic doubt, has wiped the slate clean. It leaves us in a blind 
alley. But, like the method of doubt, it can, by returning upon itself, 
disclose a new field of investigation. Reasoning follows the same 
reflexive course. I proclaim that I believe in nothing and that every- 
thing is absurd, but I cannot doubt the validity of my own pro- 
clamation and I am compelled to believe, at least, in my own protest. 
The first, and only, datum that is furnished me, within absurdist 
experience, is rebellion. Stripped of all knowledge, driven to commit 
murder or consent to it, I possess this single datum which gains 
greater strength from the anguish that I suffer. Rebellion arises from 
the spectacle of the irrational coupled with an unjust and incompre- 
hensible condition. But its blind impetus clamours for order in the 
midst of chaos, and for unity in the very heart of the ephemeral. It 
protests, it demands, it insists that the outrage come to an end, that 
there be built upon rock what until now was written unceasingly 
upon the waters. Its aim is to transform. But to transform is to act, 
and to act, nowadays, is to kill while it still does not know if murder 
is legitimate. Hence it is absolutely necessary that rebellion derive its 
justifications from itself, since it has nothing else to derive them 
from. It must consent to study itself in order to learn how to act. 

Two centuries of rebellion, metaphysical and historical, present 
themselves for our consideration. Only a historian could undertake 
to set forth in detail the doctrines and movements that followed one 
another during these centuries. But at least it ought to be possible to 
find a guiding thread. The following pages do no more than set down 
some historical landmarks and a provisional hypothesis. It is not the 
only hypothesis possible; moreover, it is far from explaining every- 
thing. But it accounts partly for the direction and, almost wholly, for 
the frenzy of our time. The prodigious history evoked here is the 
history of European pride. 

In any case we cannot understand rebellion except by studying its 
attitudes, pretensions, and conquests. In its achievements we may 
perhaps discover the rule of action that the absurd could not give us ; 
a sign at least concerning our right, or duty, to kill; hope, finally, for 



a new creation. Ma n is the only creature who refuses to be what he is. 
We shall try to determine whether this refusal must inevitably lead 
him to the destruction of others and of himself, if every rebellion 
must end in the defence of universal murder, or if, on the contrary, 
without claiming an impossible innocence, it can furnish the 
principle of a limited culpability. 



What is a rebel ? A man who says no: but whose refusal does not 
imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes as soon as he 
begins to think for himself. A slave who has taken orders all his life, 
suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does 
he mean by saying ‘no’ ? 

He means, for instance, that ‘this has been going on too long’, 
^so far but no farther’, ‘you are going too far’, or again ‘There are 
certain limits beyond which you shall not go.’ In other words, his 
‘no’ afiinns the existence of a borderline. You find the same con- 
ception in the rebel’s opinion that the other person is ‘exaggerating’, 
that he is exerting his authority beyond a limit where he infringes on 
the rights of others. He rebels because he categorically refuses to 
submit to conditions that he considers intolerable and also because 
he is confusedly convinced that his position is justified, or rather, 
because in his own mind he thinks that he ‘has the right to • . 
Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some 
way, you are justified. It is in this way that the rebel slave says yes and 
no at the same time. He aflarms that there are limits and also that he sus- 
pects -and wishes to preserve -the existence of certain things beyond 
those limits. He stubbornly insists that there are certain things in him 
which ‘ are worth while , , and which must be taken into consideration. 

In every act of rebellion, the man concerned experiences not only 
a feehng of revulsion at the infringement of his rights but also a 
complete and spontaneous loyalty to certain aspects of himself. Thus 
he implicitly brings into play a standard of values so far from being 
false that he is willing to preserve them at all costs. Up to this point 
he has, at least, kept quiet and, in despair, has accepted a condition 
to which he submits even though he considers it unjust. To keep 



quiet is to allow yourself to believe that you have no opinions, that 
you want nothing, and in certain cases it amounts to really wanting 
nothing. Despair, like Absurdism, prefers to consider everything in 
general and nothing in particular. Silence expresses this attitude very 
satisfactorily. But from the moment that the rebel finds his voice - 
‘ even though he has nothing to say but no - he begins to consider 
things in pamcular. In the etymologic^ s ense, the rel^l is a tum- 
^oatTHe aaed under the lasB of his master’s whip. Suddenly he turns 
and faces him. He chooses what is preferable to what is not. Not 
every value leads to rebellion, but every rebellion tacitly invokes a 
value. Or is it really a question of values ? 

An awakening of conscience, no matter how confused it may be, 
develops from any act of rebellion and is represented by the sudden 
realization that something exists with which the rebel can identify 
himself - even if only for a moment. Up to now this identification 
was never fully realized. Previous to his insurrection, the slave 
accepted all the demands made upon him. He even very often took 
orders, without reacting against them, which were considerably more 
offensive to him than the one at which he balked. He was patient and 
though, perhaps, he protested inwardly, he was obviously more 
careful of his own immediate interests - in that he kept quiet - than 
aware of his own rights. But with loss of patience - with impatience 
- begins a reaction which can extend to everything that he accepted 
up to this moment, and which is almost always retroactive. Im- 
mediately the slave refuses to obey the humiliating orders of his 
master, he rejects the condition of slavery. The act of rebellion carries 
him beyond the point he reached by simply refusing. He exceeds the 
bounds that he established for his antagonist and demands that he 
should now be treated as an equal. What was, originally, an obstinate 
resistance on the part of the rebel, becomes the rebel personified. He 
proceeds to put self-respect above everything else and proclaims that 
it is preferable to life itself. It becomes, for him, the supreme bless- 
ing. Having previously been willing to compromise, the slave sud- 
denly adopts an attitude of All or Nothing. Knowledge is born and 
conscience awakened. 



But it is obvious that the knowledge he gains is of an ‘All* that is 
still rather obscure and of a * No thing * that proclaims the possibility 
of sacrificing the rebel to this ‘All*. The rebel himself wants to be 
‘All* ~ to identify himself completely with this blessing of which he 
has suddenly become aware and of which he wishes to be recognized 
and proclaimed as the incarnation - or ‘Nothing* which means to 
be completely destroyed by the power that governs him. As a last 
resort he is willing to accept the final defeat, which is death, rather 
than be deprived of the last sacrament which he would call, for 
example, freedom. (Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s 

Values, according to the best authorities, ‘usually represent a 
transition from facts to rights, from what is desired to what is 
desirable (usually through the medium of what is generally con- 
sidered desirable)’.^ The transition from facts to rights is manifest, 
as we have seen, in the act of rebellion, as is the transition from ‘this 
is how things should be’ to ‘this is how I want things to be’, and still 
more, perhaps, the conception of the submission of the individual to 
the common good. The appearance of the conception of ‘All or 
Nothing’ demonstrates that rebellion, contrary to present opinion 
and despite the fact that it springs from everything that is most 
strictly individualistic in man, undermines the very conception of 
the individual. If an individual actually consents to die, and, when the 
occasion arises, accepts death as a consequence of his rebellion, he 
demonstrates that he is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of a 
common good which he considers more important than his own 
destiny. If he prefers the risk of death to a denial of the rights that he 
defends, it is because he considers that the latter are more important 
than he is. He acts, therefore, in the name of certain values which are 
still indeterminate but which he feels are common to himself and to 
all men. We see that the affirmation implicit in each act of revolt is 
extended to something which transcends the individual in so far as it 
removes him from his supposed solitude and supplies him with 
reason to act. But it is worth noting that the conception of values as 
* Lalande, Vocabulaire phtlosophique. 



pre-existent to any kind of action runs counter to the purely historical 
schools of philosophy in which values are established (if they are ever 
established) by action itself. An analysis of rebellion leads us to the 
suspicion that, contrary to the postulates of contemporary thought, 
a human nature does exist, as the Greeks believed. Why rebel if 
there is nothing worth preserving in oneself? The slave asserts him- 
self for the sake of everyone in the world when he comes to the con- 
clusion that a command has infringed on something inside him 
that does not belong to him alone, but which he has in common 
with other men - even with the man who insults and oppresses 

Two observations will support this argument. First, we can see 
that an act of rebellion is not, essentially, an egoistic act. Un- 
doubtedly it can have egoistic aims. But you can rebel equally well 
against a lie as against oppression. Furthermore, the rebel - at the 
moment of his greatest impetus and no matter what his aims - keeps 
nothing in reserve and commits himself completely. Undoubtedly he 
demands respect for himself, but only in so far as he identifies him- 
self with humanity in general. 

Then we note that revolt does not occur only amongst the 
oppressed but that it can also break out at the mere spectacle of 
oppression of which someone else is the victim. In such cases there 
is a feeling of identification with other individuals. And it must be 
made clear that it is not a question of psychological identification - a 
mere subterfuge by which the individual contrives to feel that it is he 
who has been oppressed. It can even happen that we cannot counten- 
ance other people being insulted in a manner that we ourselves have 
accepted without rebelling. The suicides of the Russian terrorists in 
Siberia, as a protest against their comrades being whipped, is a case 
in point. Nor is it a question of a community of interests. Injustices 
done to men whom we consider enemies can, actually, be profoundly 
repugnant to us. Our reaction is only an identification of destinies 
and a choice of sides. Therefore the individual is not, in himself, an 
embodiment of the values he wishes to defend. It needs at least all 
humanity to comprise them. When he rebels, a man identifies him- 


self with other men and, &om this point of view, human solidarity is 
metaphysicaL But for the moment we are only dealing with the kind 
of solidarity that is bom in chains. 

It would be possible for us to define the positive aspect of the 
values implicit in every act of rebellion by comparing them to a 
completely negative conception like that of resentment as defined by 
Scheler. Actually, rebellion is more than an act of revenge, in the 
strongest sense of the word. Resentment is very well defined by 
Scheler as an auto-intoxication - the evil secretion, in a sealed vessel, 
of prolonged impotence. Rebellion, on the other hand, removes the 
seal and allows the whole being to come into play. It liberates stag- 
nant waters and turns them into a raging torrent. Scheler himself 
emphasizes the passive aspect of resentment, and remarks on the 
prominent position it occupies in the psychology of women whose 
main preoccupations are desire and possession. The mainspring of 
revolt, on the other hand, is the principle of superabundant activity 
and energy. Scheler is also right in saying that resentment is always 
highly flavoured with envy. But we envy what we do not possess 
while the rebel defends what he has. He does not only claim some 
benefit which he does not possess or of which he was deprived. His 
aim is to claim recognition for something which he has and which 
has already been recognized by him, in almost every case, as more 
important than anything of which he could be envious. Rebellion is 
not reahstic. According to Scheler, resentment always turns into 
either unscrupulous ambition or bitterness, depending on whether it 
flourishes in a weak mind or a strong one. But in both cases it is 
always a question of wanting to be something other than what one 
is. Resentment is always resentment against oneself. The rebel, on 
the other hand, from his very first step, refuses to allow anyone 
to touch what he is. He is fighting for the integrity of one part 
of his being. At first he does not try to conquer, but simply to 

Finally, it would seem that resentment takes a delight, in advance, 
in the pain that it would like the object of its envy to feel. Nietzsche 
and Scheler are right in seeing an excellent illustration of this feeling 



in the passage where TertuUian informs his readers that one of the 
greatest sources of happiness in heaven will be the spectacle of the 
Roman emperors consumed in the fires of hell. This kind of happi- 
ness is also experienced by all the decent people who go to watch 
executions. The rebel, on principle, persistently refuses to be hu- 
miliated without asking that others should be. He will even accept 
pain provided that his integrity is respected. 

It is hard to understand why Scheler absolutely identifies the 
spirit of revolt with resentment. His critique of resentment as a 
part of humanitarianism (which he considers as the non-Christian 
form of human love) could perhaps be applied to certain vague forms 
of humanitarian idealism, or to certain techniques of terror. But it is 
false in so far as a man’s rebellion against his condition is concerned 
and equally false about the impulse that enlists individuals in the 
defence of a dignity common to all men. Scheler wants to prove that 
humanitarian feelings are always accompanied by misanthropy. 
Humanity is loved in general in order to avoid loving anybody in 
particular. In some cases this is correct, and it is easier to understand 
Scheler when we realize that for him humanitarianism is represented 
by Bentham and Rousseau. But man’s love for man can be bom of 
other things than an arithmetic calculation of interests or a theoretical 
confidence in human nature. Despite what the utilitarians say, there 
exists, for example, the type of logic, embodied by Dostoyevsky in 
Ivan Karamazov, that begins with an act of rebellion and ends in 
metaphysical insurreaion. Scheler is aware of this and sums up the 
conception in the following manner: ‘There is not enough love in the 
world to be able to squander it on anything else but the human race.’ 
Even if this proposition were true, the profound despair that it 
implies would merit any other reaction but contempt. Actually, it 
misinterprets the tortured nature of Karamazov’s rebellion. Ivan’s 
drama, on the contrary, arises from the fact that there is too much 
love without an object. The existence of God being denied, love 
becomes redundant and then he decides to lavish it on the human 
race as a generous aa of complicity. 

Nevertheless, in the act of revolt as we have envisaged it up to 



now, we do not choose an abstract ideal through lack of feeling or for 
sterile reasons of revenge. We demand that that part of man which 
cannot be confined to the realm of ideas should be taken into con- 
sideration - the passionate side of his nature that serves no other 
purpose but to help him to live. Does that imply that no act of 
rebellion is motivated by resentment ? No, and we know this from the 
bitter experience of centuries. But we must consider the idea of 
revolt in its widest sense - and in its widest sense it goes far beyond 
resentment. When HeathclifF, in Wuthering Heights^ says that he puts 
his love above God and would willingly go to Hell in order to be 
reunited with the woman he loves, he is prompted not only by his 
youth and his humiliation but by the consuming experience of a 
whole lifetime. The same emotion causes Eckart, in a surprising fit of 
heresy, to say that he prefers Hell with Jesus to Heaven without Him. 
This is the very essence of love. Contrary to what Scheler thinks, it 
would be impossible to overemphasize the passionate affirmation that 
underlies the act of revolt and which distinguishes it from resentment. 
Rebellion, though apparently negative since it creates nothing, is 
profoundly positive in that it reveals the part of man which must 
always be defended. 

But finally, are not rebellion and the values that it calls into play 
interdependent ? Reasons for rebellion seem, in fact, to change with 
the times. It is obvious that a Hindu pariah, an Inca warrior, a 
primitive native of Central Africa, and a member of one of the first 
Christian communities had quite different conceptions about re- 
bellion. We could even assert, with considerable assurance, that the 
idea of rebellion has no meaning in those actual cases. However, a 
Greek slave, a serf, a condottiere of the Renaissance, a Parisian 
bourgeois during the Regency, and a Russian intellectual at the 
beginning of the nineteenth century would undoubtedly agree that 
rebellion is legitimate, even if they differed about the reasons. In 
other words, the problem of rebellion only seems to assume a precise 
meaning within the confines of Western thought. It is possible to be 
even more expheit by saying, like Scheler, that the spirit of rebellion 



finds few means of expression in societies where inequalities are very 
great (the Hindu caste system) or, again, in those where there is 
absolute equality (certain primitive societies). The spirit of revolt can 
only exist in a society where a theoretic equality conceals great factual 
inequalities. The problem of revolt, therefore, has no meaning out- 
side our Occidental society. It would be tempting to say that it was 
relative to the development of individualism if the preceding remarks 
had not put us on guard against this conclusion. 

On the basis of the evidence, the only conclusion we can draw 
jfrom Scheler’s remark is that, thanks to the theory of political 
freedom, there is, in the very heart of our society, an extension of the 
conception of the rights of man and a corresponding dissatisfaction 
caused by the application of this theory of freedom. Actual freedom 
has not increased in proportion to man’s awareness of it. We can only 
deduce, from this observation, that rebellion is the act of an educated 
man who is aware of his rights. But we cannot say that it is only a 
question of individual rights. Because of the sense of solidarity that 
we have already pointed out, it would rather seem that what is at 
stake is humanity’s gradually increasing awareness of itself as it 
pursues its adventurous course. In fact, for the Inca and the pariah 
the problem of revolt never arises, because for them it has been 
solved by tradition before they had time to raise it - the answer being 
that tradition is sacrosanct. If, in the sacrosanct world, the problem of 
revolt does not arise, it is because no real problems are to be found in 
it - all the answers having been given simultaneously. Metaphysic is 
replaced by myth. But before man accepts the sacrosanct and in order 
for him to be able to accept it - or before he escapes from it and in 
order for him to be able to escape from it - there is always a period of 
soul-searching and revolt. The rebel is a man who is on the point of 
accepting or rejecting the sacrosanct and determined on creating a 
human situation where all the answers are human or, rather, formu- 
lated in terms of reason. From this moment every question, every 
word, is an act of rebeUion, while in the sacrosanct world every word 
is an act of grace. It would be possible to demonstrate in this manner 
that only two possible worlds can exist for the human mind, the 



sacrosanct (or, to speak in Christian terms, the world of Grace)"^ or 
the rebel world. The disappearance of the one is equivalent to the 
appearance of the other, and this appearance can take place in dis- 
concerting forms. Here again we find the attitude of All or Nothing. 
The pressing aspect of the problem of rebellion depends only on the 
fact that nowadays whole societies have wanted to re-examine their 
position in regard to the sacrosanct. We live in an unsacrosanct 
p)eriod. Insurrection is certainly not the sum total of human ex- 
perience. But the controversial aspect of contemporary history 
compels us to say that rebeUion is one of man’s essential dimensions. 
It is our historical reality. Unless we ignore reality, we must find our 
values in it. Is it possible to find a rule of conduct outside the realm 
of religion and of absolute values ? That is the question raised by 

We have already noted the confused standard of values that are 
called into play by incipient revolt. Now we must inquire if these 
values are to be found in contemporary forms of rebellious thought 
and action and, if they do exist, we must specify their content. But, 
before going any farther, let us note that the basis of these values is 
rebellion itself. Man’s solidarity is founded upon rebellion, and 
rebellion can only be justified by this solidarity. We then have 
authority to say that any type of rebellion which claims the right to 
deny or destroy this solidarity simultaneously loses the right to be 
called rebellion and actually becomes an accomplice to murder. In 
the same way, this solidarity, except in so far as religion is concerned, 
only comes to life on the level of rebellion. And so the real drama of 
revolutionary thought is revealed. In order to exist, man must rebel, 
but rebellion must respea the limits that it discovers in itself - limits 
where minds meet and, in meeting, begin to exist. Revolutionary 
thought, therefore, cannot dispense with memory: it is in a perpetual 
state of tension. In contemplating the results of an act of rebellion, 

* There is, of course, an act of metaphysical rebellion at the beginning of 
Christianity, but the resurrection of Christ and the annunciation of the 
Kingdom of Heaven interpreted as a promise of eternal life are the answers 
that render it futile. 



we shall have to say, each time, whether it remains faithful to its 
first noble promise or whether, through lassitude or folly, it forgets 
its purpose and plunges into a mire of tyranny or servitude. 

Meanwhile, we can sum up the initial progress that the spirit of 
rebellion accomplishes in a process of thought that is already con- 
vinced of the absurdity and apparent sterility of the world. In 
absurdist experience suffering is individual. But from the moment 
that a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective 
experience - as the experience of everyone. Therefore the first step 
for a mind overwhelmed by the strangeness of things is to realize that 
this feeling of strangeness is shared with all men and that the entire 
human race suffers from the division between itself and the rest of 
the world. The unhappiness experienced by a single man becomes 
collective unhappiness. In our daily trials, rebellion plays the same 
role as does the "cogito^ in the category of thought: it is the first clue. 
But this clue lures the individual from his solitude. Rebellion is the 
common ground on which every man bases his first values. I rebel - 
therefore we exist. 



Metaphysical rebellion is the means by which a man pro tests 
a gainst his conSTtlonT and agaimt the^hole of cr cationjlt is meta- 
physical ^cause it disputes the ends of man anT of creation. The 
slave protests against the condition of his state of slavery; the 
metaphysical rebel p rotests against the human condition in g eneral. 
The rebel slave afiirms tliat there is something in him which will not 
tolerate the manner in which his master treats him; the metaphysical 
rebel declares that he is frustrated by the universe. For both of them 
it is not only a problem of pure and simple negation. In fact in both 
cases we find an assessment of values in the name of which the rebel 
refuses to accept the condition in which he finds himself. 

The slave who opposes his master is not concerned, let us note, 
with repudiating his master as a human being. He is repudiating him 
as master. He denies his right to deny him, as a slave, by making 
excessive demands. The master fails to the extent that he docs not 
respond to a demand that he ignores. If men cannot refer to common 
values, which they all separately recognize, then man is incompre- 
hensible to man. The rebel demands that these values should be 
clearly recognized as part of himself because he knows or suspects 
that, without them, crime and disorder would reign in the world. An 
act of rebellion seems to him like a demand for clarity and unity. The 
mo sj: clcmentary _rcbellion, paradoxically, expresses an aspiration 
to order. 

This description can be applied, word for word, to the meta- 
physical rebel. He attacks a shattered world to make it whole. He 
confronts the injustice at large in the world with liis own principles of 
justice. Thus all he originally wants is to resolve this contradiction 
and establish a reign of justice, if he can, or of injustice if he is driven 



to the end of his tether. Meanwhile he denounces the contradiction. 
Metaphysical rebellion is the justified claim of a desire for unity 
against the suffering of life and death - in that it protests against the 
incompleteness of human life, expressed by death, and its dispersion, 
expressed by evil. If a mass death sentence defines man’s condition, 
then rebellion, in one sense, is its contemporary. When he refuses to 
recognize his mortality, the rebel simultaneously refuses to recognize 
the power that makes him live in this condition. The metaphysical 
rebel is, therefore, certainly not an atheist, as one might think him, 
but inevitably he is a blasphemer. He simply blasphemes, primarily 
in the name of order, by denouncing God as the origin of death and 
as the supreme disillusionment. 

Let us return to the rebel slave to clear up this point. By protesting, 
he established the existence of the master against whom he rebelled. 
But, at the same time, he demonstrated that his master’s power was 
dependent on his own subordination and he affirmed his own power: 
the power of continually questioning the superiority of his master. 
In this regard master and slave are in the same boat; the temporary 
sway of the former is as relative as the latter’s submission. 

At the moment of rebellion, the two forces assert themselves 
alternately, until the time comes for them to attempt to destroy each 
other and one or other temporarily disappears. 

In the same way, if the metaphysical rebel ranges himself against a 
power whose existence he simultaneously affirms, he only admits the 
existence of this power at the very instant when he calls it into 
question. And then he draws this superior power into the same 
humiliating adventure as himself - the power being equally as 
ineffectual as our condition. He subjects it to the power of our refusal, 
bends it to the unbending part of human nature, forcibly integrates it 
into an existence which we render absurd, and finally drags it from 
its refuge outside time and involves it in history - very far from the 
eternal stability that it can only find in the unanimous consent of all 
men. Thus rebellion afiirms that, on this level, any superior being is 
contradictory if nothing else. 

And so the history of metaphysical revolt cannot be confused with 



that of atheism. From one angle, it is even identified with the con- 
temporary history of religious sentiment. The rebel defies more than 
he denies. Originally, at least, he does not deny God, he simply talks 
to Him as an equal. But it is not a polite dialogue. It is a polemic 
animated by the desire to conquer. The slave starts by begging for 
justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He too wants to 
dominate. His insurrection against his condition is transformed into 
an unlimited campaign against the heavens for the purpose of 
capturing a king who will first be dethroned and finally condemned 
to death. Human rebellion ends in metaphysical revolution. It 
progresses from appearances to facts, fi*om dilettantism to revolu- 
tionary commitment. When the throne of God is overthrown, the 
rebel realizes that it is now his own responsibility to create the 
justice, order, and unity that he sought in vain within his own con- 
dition and, in this way, to justify the fall of God. Then begins the 
desperate effort to create, at the price of sin if necessary, the dominion 
of man. This cannot come about without appalling consequences of 
which we are only, so far, aware of a few. But these consequences 
are in no way due to rebellion itself or, at least, they only occur to the 
extent that rebellion forgets its original purpose, tires of the tension 
caused by its positive and negative attitude, and finally abandons 
itself to complete negation or total submission. Metaphysical insur- 
rection in its primary stages offers us the same positive content as the 
slave’s rebellion. Our task is to examine what becomes of this 
positive content of rebellion in the actions that it entails and to point 
out the path where the rebel is led by his fidelity or infidelity to the 
origins of his revolt. 

The Sons of Cain 

Metaphysical revolt, in the proper sense, does not appear in any 
coherent form in the history of ideas until the end of the eighteenth 
century: modem times begin with the crash of falling ramparts. But, 
from this moment on, its consequences develop uninterruptedly and 
it is no exaggeration to say that they have shaped the history of our 
times. I ^torically speaking, the first coherent offi ^nsive is 
he musters, into one vast war machine, the arguments of the free- 
thinkers up to Voltaire and Father Meslier. Naturally, his is also the 
most extreme negation of all. From rebellion, Sade can only deduce 
an absolute negative. Twenty-seven years in prison do not, in fact, 
produce a very conciliatory form of intelligence. Such a lengthy con- 
finement makes a man either a weakling or a killer - or sometimes 
both. If the mind is strong enough to construct, in a prison cell, a 
a moral philosophy which is not one of submission, it will generally 
be one of domination. Every ethic conceived in solitude implies the 
exercise of power. In this respect Sade is the archetype, for in so far 
as society treated him atrociously he responded in an atrocious 
fashion. The writer, despite a few happy phrases and the uncon- 
sidered praises of contemporary critics, is secondary. He is admired 
today, with so much ingenuity, for reasons which have nothing to do 
with literature. 

He is exalted as the philosopher in chains and the first theoretician 
of absolute rebellion. He might well have been. In prison, dreams 
have no limits and reality is no curb. Intelligence in chains loses in 
lucidity what it gains in intensity. The only logic known to Sade was 
the logic of his feelings. He did not create a philosophy, he pursued a 
monstrous dream of revenge. Only the dream turned out to be 
prophetic. His desperate claim to freedom led Sade into the kingdom 
of servitude; his inordinate thirst for a form of hfe he could never 
attain was assuaged in the successive frenzies of a dream of universal 



destruction. In this way, at least, Sade is our contemporary. Let us 
follow the steps of his successive negations. 


Is Sade an atheist ? He says so, we believe, before he goes to prison 
in his Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man; and from then on 
we are staggered by his passion for sacrilege. One of his cruellest 
characters, Saint-Fond, does not in any sense deny God. He is 
content to develop a gnostic theory of a wicked demi-urge and to 
draw the suitable conclusions from it. Saint-Fond, we remark, is not 
Sade. Of course not. A character is never the writer who created him. 
However, there are occasions when a writer is all his characters 
simultaneously. Now, all Sade’s atheists admit the non-existence of 
God, on principle, for the obvious reason that His existence would 
imply that He was indifferent, wicked, or cruel. Sade’s greatest work 
ends with a demonstration of the stupidity and spite of the divinity. 
The innocent Justine runs through the storm and Noirceul, the 
criminal, swears to be converted if her life is spared by the divine 
anger (the celestial thunderbolt). Justine is struck by lightning, Noir- 
ceul triumphs, and human sin continues to be man’s answer to divine 
sin. And so there is a libertine wager in answer to the Pascalian wager. 

The idea of God that Sade conceives for himself is, thus, of a 
criminal divinity who oppresses and denies mankind. That murder 
is a divine attribute is quite apparent from the history of religions. 
Why, then, should men be virtuous ? Sade’s first step as a prisoner is 
to jump to the most extreme conclusions. If God kills and repudiates 
mankind there is nothing to stop one repudiating and killing one’s 
fellow-men. This angry challenge in no way resembles the tranquil 
negation which is still to be found in the Dialogue of 1782. The man 
who exclaims: T have nothing, I am nothing’ and who concludes 
‘No, no, virtue and vice are indistinguishable in the tomb’ is neither 
happy nor tranquil. The conception of God is the only thing, 



according to him, *for which man cannot be forgiven*. The word 
Torgiven* sounds strange in the mouth of this expert in torture. But 
it is himself whom he cannot forgive for a conception that his 
desperate view of the world, and his condition as a prisoner, com- 
pletely refute. A double rebellion - against the order of things and 
against himself -'^s the guidmg principle of Sade’s reasoning. As 
this double revolt is self-contradictory, except in the agitated mind 
of a victim, his reasoning is always either ambiguous or legitimate 
according to whether it is judged in the light of logic or in an effort to 
be compassionate. 

He repudiates man and his morality, because God repudiates them 
both. But he repudiates God even though He has served as his 
accomplice and guarantor up to now. For what reason ? Because of 
the strongest instinct to be found in someone who is condemned by 
his hatred for mankind to live behind prison walls: the sexual 
instinct. What is this instinct? On the one hand, it is the ultimate 
expression of nature and, on the other, the blind force which demands 
the total subjection of human beings, even at the price of their 

Sade denies God in the name of nature (the ideological conceptions 
of his time presented it in mechanistic form) and makes nature a 
power bent on destruction. For him, nature is sex; his logic leads 
him to a lawless universe where the only master is the inordinate 
energy of desire. This is his impassioned kingdom, where he finds 
his finest means of expression: ‘What are all the creatures of the 
earth in comparison to a single one of our desires!* The long pro- 
cesses of reasoning by which Sade*s heroes demonstrate that nature 
has need of crime, that it must destroy in order to create, and that 
thus we help it to create firom the moment that we embark on self- 
destruction, are only aimed at creating an absolute liberty for Sade, 
the prisoner, who is too unjustly repressed not to long for the 
explosion that will blow everything sky high. In this, he goes against 
his times: the freedom that he demands is one not of principles but 
of instincts. 

Sade dreamed, no doubt, of a universal republic, whose scheme 



he revcab through his wise reformer, Zam 6 . He shows us, by this 
means, that one of the aims of rebellion is the liberation of the entire 
world - in so far as rebellion is less and less willing to recognize 
limits as its demands become more pressing. But everything about 
him contradicts this pious dream. He is no friend of humanity, he 
hates philanthropists. The equality of which he sometimes speaks is a 
mathematical concept: the equivalence of the objects that comprise 
the human race, the abject equality of the victims. What drives him 
on, what makes him want to dominate everything, his real accom- 
plishment, is hatred. Sade’s republic is not founded on liberty but on 
libertinism. ‘Jtistice*, this peculiar democrat writes, ‘has no real 
existence. She is the divinity of all the passions.’ 

Nothing is more revealing, in this respect, than the famous 
lampoon, read by Dolmance in the Philosophie du boudoir and which 
has the curious title: People of France^ one more effort if you want to he 
republican I Pierre Klossowski is right in attaching so much import- 
ance to it, for this lampoon demonstrates to the revolutionaries that 
their republic is founded on the murder of the King - who was King 
by divine right - and that by guillotining God on 2i January 1793, 
they deprived themselves, forever, of the right to proscribe crime or 
to censure wicked instincts. The monarchy supported the con- 
ception of a God who, in conjunction with itself, created all laws. 
As for the Republic, it stood alone and morality was supposed to 
exist without benefit of the Commandments. However, it is doubtful 
if Sade, as Klossowski would have it, was profoundly convinced that 
this was a sacrilege and that an almost religious horror led him to the 
conclusions that he expresses. It is much more likely that he had 
already come to these conclusions and that afterwards he perceived 
the correct arguments to justify the absolute licence of morals that he 
wanted to impose on the government of his time. Logic founded on 
passions reverses the traditional sequence of reasoning and places the 
conclusion before the premises. To be convinced of this we only 
have to appreciate the admirable sequence of sophisms by which 
Sade, in this passage, justifies calumny, theft, and murder and 
demands that they be tolerated in the New World. 



However, it is then that his thoughts are most penetrating. He 
rejects, with exceptional perspicacity for his times, the presumptuous 
alliance of freedom with virtue. Freedom, particularly when it is a 
prisoner’s dream, cannot endure limitations. It must embrace crime 
or it is no longer freedom. On this essential point, Sade never varies. 
This man who never preached anything but contradictions only 
achieves coherence - and of a most complete kind - when he talks of 
capital punishment. An addict of refined ways of execution, a 
theoretician of sexual crime, he was never able to tolerate legal crime. 
‘My imprisonment, with the guillotine under my very eyes, was far 
more horrible to me than all the Bastilles imaginable.’ From this 
feeling of horror he drew the strength to be moderate, publicly, 
during the Terror, and to intervene generously on behalf of his 
mother-m-law, despite the fact that she had had him imprisoned. A 
few years later, Nodier summed up, without knowing it perhaps, the 
position obstinately defended by Sade: ‘To kill a man in a parox3rsm 
of passion is understandable. To have him killed by someone else 
after serious meditation and on the pretext of a duty honourably dis- 
charged is incomprehensible.’ Here we find the germ of an idea 
which will be further developed by Sade: he who kills must pay in 
kind. Sade is more moral, we see, than our contemporaries. 

But his hatred for the death penalty is at first no more than a 
hatred for the men who are sufficiently convinced of their own virtue 
to dare to inflict capital punishment, when they themselves are 
criminals. You cannot simultaneously choose crime for yourself and 
punishment for others. You must open the prison gates or give an 
impossible proof of your own innocence. From the moment you 
accept murder, even if only once, you must allow it universally. The 
criminal who acts according to nature cannot, without prevarication, 
range himself on the side of the law. ‘One more effort if you want to 
be republicans* means: ‘Accept the freedom of crime, the only 
reasonable step, and enter forever into a state of insurrection as you 
enter into a state of grace.’ Thus total submission to evil leads to an 
appalling penitence which cannot fail to horrify the Republic of 
enlightenment and natural goodness. By a significant coincidence, the 



manuscript of One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom was burned 
during the first riot of the Republic which could hardly fail to 
denounce Sade’s heretical theories of liberty and to throw so com- 
promising a supporter into prison once more. By doing so it gave 
him the regrettable opportunity of developing his rebellious logic 
still further. 

The universal republic could be a dream for Sade, but never a 
temptation. In politics, his real position is cynicism. In his Society of 
The Friends of Crime, he declares himself ostensibly in favour of 
government and its laws which he, meanwhile, has every intention of 
violating. It is the same impulse which drives the lowest criminals to 
vote for the conservative candidate. The republic of crime ca nnot, 
for the moment at least, be uniyersal. It must pretend to obey the 
law. However, in a^ world that knows no other rule but murder, 
beneath a criminal heaven, and in the name of a criminal nature, 
Sade, in reality, obeys no other law but that of inexhaustible desire. 
But to desire without limit comes to accepting being desired without 
limit. Licence to destroy supposes that you yourself can be destroyed. 
Thus you must struggle and dominate. The law of this world is 
nothing but the law of strength; its driving force the will to power. 

The adv ocate o f crime really only respects two ^ds of power; 
one, which he^finds in his own cTSs, founded on the accident of 
bijrtE7 and the other by which, through sheer villainy, an underdog 
rais es him sey to the level of the libertines of nobleJ)irth wEonTSade 
makes his heroes. This powerful little group of initiates know that 
the'y have all the rights. Anyone who doubts, even for a second, in his 
formidable privileges, is immediately driven from the flock, and once 
more becomes a viaim. Thus a sort of aristocratic morality is created 
where a little group of men and women entrench themselves above a 
caste of slaves because they withhold the secret of a strange know- 
ledge. The only problem, for them, consists in organizing themselves 
for the complete exercise of their rights which have the terrifying 
scope of desire. 

They cannot hope to dominate the entire universe until the law 
of crime has been accepted by the universe. Sade never even believed 



that his own nation could be capable of the additional eflFort which 
would make it "republican’. But if crime and desire are not the law 
of the entire universe, if they do not reign at least over a specified 
territory, they are no longer unifying principles, but ferments of 
conflict. They are no longer the law and man returns to chaos and 
confusion. Thus it is necessary to create, from all these fragments, a 
world which coincides exactly with the new law. The need for unity, 
which Creation never satisfies, is fulfilled, at all costs, in a microcosm. 
The law of force never has the patience to await complete control of 
the world. It must fix the boundaries, without delay, of the territory 
where it holds sway, even if it means surrounding it with barbed 
wire and observation towers. 

For Sade, the law of force implies barred gates, castles with seven- 
foot walls from which it is impossible to escape, and where a society 
founded on desire and crime fimctions unimpeded, according to an 
implacable system. Unbridled rebellion, insistence on complete 
liberty, lead to the subjection of the majority, Man’s emancipation is 
fulfilled, for Sade, in these strongholds of debauchery where a kind 
of bureaucracy of vice rules over the life and death of the men and 
women who have entered, forever, the hell of their desires. His works 
abound with descriptions of these privileged places where feudal 
libertines, to demonstrate to their assembled victims their absolute 
impotence and servitude, always resume the Due de Glangis’ speech 
to the common people of the One Hundred and Twenty Days of 
Sodom: ‘You are already dead to the world.’ 

Sade, likewise, occupied the tower of Freedom, but in the Bastille. 
Absolute rebellion took refuge with him in a sordid fortress from 
which none, neither persecuted nor persecutors, could ever escape. 
To estabhsh his liberty, he had to create absolute necessity. Un- 
limited liberty of desire implies the negation of others and the 
suppression of pity. The heart, that ‘weak spot of the intellect’, must 
be exterminated: the locked room and the system will take its place. 
The system, which plays a role of capital importance in Sade’s 
fabulous castles, sanctifies a universe of mistrust. It helps to antici- 
pate everything so that no unexpeaed tenderness or pity occurs to 



Upset the plans for complete enjo3mient. It is a curious kind of 
pleasure, no doubt, which obeys the commandment ‘We shall rise 
every morning at ten o’clock . . . ! * But enjoyment must be prevented 
from degenerating into attachment, it must be put in parentheses and 
tempered. Objects of enjoyment must also never be allowed to appear 
as persons. If a man is an ‘absolutely material species of plant’, he 
can only be treated as an object and as an object for experiment. In 
Sade’s fortress republic, there are only machines and mechanics. The 
system, which dictates the method of employing the machines, puts 
everything in its right place. His infamous convents have their rule - 
significantly copied from that of religious communities. Thus the 
libertine indulges in public confession. But the process is changed: 
‘If his conduct is pure, he is censured.’ 

Sade, as was the custom of his period, constructed ideal societies. 
But, contrary to the custom of his period, he codifies the natural 
wickedness of mankind. He meticulously constructs a citadel of force 
and hatred - pioneer that he is - even to the point of calculating 
mathematically the freedom he succeeded in destroying. He sums up 
his philosophy with an unemotional accounting of crimes: ‘Mas- 
sacred before the first of March: lo. After the first of March: 20. 
To come: 16. Total: 46.’ A pioneer, no doubt, but a limited one, as 
we can see. 

If that were all, Sade would not be worthy of the interest that 
attaches to all misunderstood pioneers. But once the drawbridge is 
up, life in the castle must go on. No matter how meticulous the 
system, it cannot foresee every eventuality. It can destroy, but it 
cannot create. The masters of these tortured communities do not 
find the satisfaction that they covet. Sade often evokes the ‘charming 
habit of crime’. Nothing here, however, seems very charming - more 
like the fury of a man in chains. The point is to enjoy oneself, and the 
maximum of enjoyment coincides with the maximum of destruction. 
To possess what one is going to kill, to copulate with suffering - 
those are the moments of freedom towards which the entire organiza- 
tion of Sade’s castles is oriented. But from the moment when sexual 
crime destroys the object of desire, it also destroys desire which 



exists only at the precise moment of destruction. Then another object 
must be brought under subjection and killed, and then another, and 
80 on to an infinity of all possible objects. Thus occurs the depressing 
and dense accumulation of erotic and criminal scenes in Sade’s 
novels, which leaves the reader with a paradoxical memory of a 
hideous chastity. 

What part, in this universe, could pleasure play or the exquisite 
joy of acquiescent and accomplice bodies ? In it we find an impossible 
quest for escape from despair - a quest which finishes, nevertheless, 
in a desperate race from servitude to servitude and from prison to 
prison. If only nature is real and if, in nature, only desire and 
destruction are legitimate, then, in that all humanity does not suflfice 
to assuage the thirst for blood, the path of destruction must lead to 
universal annihilation. We must become, according to Sade’s 
formula, nature’s executioner. But even that position is not achieved 
too easily. When the accounts are closed, when all the victims are 
massacred, the executioners are left face to face in the deserted 
castle. Something is still missing. The tortured bodies return, in their 
elements, to nature and will be bom again. Even murder cannot be 
fully consummated: ‘Murder only deprives the victim of his first 
life: a means must be found of depriving him of his second. . . .’ Sade 
contemplates an attempt against nature: ‘I abhor nature ... I would 
like to upset its plans, to thwart its progress, to halt the stars in their 
courses, to overturn the floating spheres of space, to destroy what 
serves nature and to succour all that harms it; in a word, to insult it 
in all its works, and I cannot succeed in doing so.’ It is in vain that he 
dreams of a technician who can pulverize the universe: he knows 
that, in the dust of the spheres, life will continue. The attempt 
against creation is doomed to failure. It is impossible to destroy 
everything, there is always a remainder. ‘ I cannot succeed in doing 
so. . . .’ the icy and implacable universe suddenly relents at the 
appalling melancholy by which Sade, in the end and quite un- 
willingly, always moves us. ‘When crimes of passion no longer 
measure up to our intensity, we could, perhaps, attack the sun, 
deprive the universe of it, or use it to set fire to the world - those 



would be real crimes. . . Crimes, yes, but not the definitive crime. 
It is necessary to go farther; the executioners eye each other with 

Tliey are alone, and one law alone governs them - the law of 
power. Since they accepted it when they were masters they cannot 
reject it if it turns against them. All power tends to be unique and 
solitary. One must kill again and again: the masters will destroy each 
other in their turn. Sade accepts this consequence and does not 
flinch. A curious kind of stoicism derived from vice sheds a little 
light in the dark places of his rebellious soul. He will not try to live 
again in the world of affection and compromise. The drawbridge will 
not be lowered and he will accept personal annihilation. The un- 
bridled force of his rejection, at its extremity, achieves an uncon- 
ditional consent which is not without nobility. The master consents 
to be the slave in his turn and even, perhaps, wishes to be. ‘The 
scaffold would be for me the throne of voluptuousness.’ 

Thus the greatest degree of destruction coincides with the greatest 
degree of affirmation. The masters throw themselves on one another 
and Sade’s work, dedicated to the glory of libertinism, ends by being 
‘strewn with corpses of libertines struck down at the height of their 
powers’. The most powerful, the one who will survive, is the solitary, 
the unique, whose glorification Sade has undertaken - in other 
words himself. At last he reigns supreme, master and God. But at the 
moment of his greatest victory, the dream vanishes. The Unique 
turns back towards the prisoner whose unbounded imagination gave 
birth to him and they become one. In fact he is alone, imprisoned in 
a blood-stained Bastille, entirely constructed around a still un- 
satisfied, and henceforth undirected, desire for pleasure. He has only 
triumphed in a dream and these ten volumes crammed with philo- 
sophy and atrocities recapitulate an unhappy spiritual experience, an 
illusory advance from the final no to the absolute yes, an acquiescence 
in death at last, which transfigures the assassination of everything 
and everyone into a collective suicide. 

Sade was executed in effigy; he, too, only killed in his imagination. 
Prometheus ends his days as Onan. Sade is still a prisoner when he 



dies, but this time in a lunatic asylum, acting plays on an improvised 
stage with other lunatics. A derisory equivalent of the satisfaction 
that the order of the world failed to give him was provided for him 
by dreams and by creative activity. The writer, of course, has no 
need to refuse himself anything. For him, at least, boundaries dis- 
appear and desire can be allowed free reign. In this respect, Sade is 
the perfect man of letters. He created a fable in order to give himself 
the illusion of existing. He put ‘the moral crime which is committed 
by writing* above everything else. His incontestable merit lies in 
having immediately demonstrated, with the unhappy perspicacity of 
accumulated rage, the extreme consequences of a rebel’s logic - at 
least when it forgets its true origins. These consequences are a 
hermetic totalitarianism, universal crime, an aristocracy of cynicism, 
and the desire for an apocalypse. They will be found again many 
years after his death. But having tasted them, he was caught, it 
seems, on the horns of his own dilenuna and he could only escape 
the dilemma in literature. Strangely enough, it is Sade who sets 
rebellion on the path of literature down which it will be led 
still farther by romanticism. He himself is one of those writers 
of whom he says ‘their corruption is so dangerous, so active, that 
they have no other aim in printing their monstrous works but to 
extend beyond their own lives the sum total of their crimes; they 
can commit no more, but their accursed writings will lead others to do 
so, and this comforting thought which they carry vnth them to the 
tomb consoles them for the obligation which death imposes on them 
of renouncing this life*. Thus his rebellious writings bear witness to 
his desire for survival. Even if the immortality he longs for is the 
immortality of Cain, at least he longs for it, and despite himself 
bears witness to what is most true in metaphysical rebellion. 

Moreover, even his followers compel us to do him homage. His 
heirs are not all writers. Of course he suffered and died to stimulate 
imagination in the right circles and in literary cafes. But that is not 
all. Sade*s success in our day is explained by the dream that he had in 
common with contemporary thought: the demand for total freedom 
and dehumanization coldly planned by the intelligence. The reduc- 



tion of man to an object of experiment, the rule which specifies the 
relation between the will to power and man as an object, the sealed 
laboratory which is the scene of this monstrous experiment, are 
lessons which the theoreticians of power wiU learn again when they 
have to organize the age of slavery. 

Two centuries ahead of time and on a reduced scale, Sade extolled 
totalitarian societies in the name of unbridled freedom - which, in 
reality, rebellion does not desire. With him really begin the history 
and the tragedy of our times. He only believed that a society founded 
on the freedom of crime must coincide with freedom of morals, as 
though servitude had its limits. Our times have only gone as far as to 
blend, in a curious manner, his dream of a universal republic and his 
technique of degradation. At last, what he hated most, legal murder, 
has availed itself of the discoveries that he wanted to put to the 
service of impulsive murder. Crime, which he wanted to be the exotic 
and delicious fhiit of imbridled vice, is no more, today, than the 
dismal habit of a police-controlled morality. Such are the surprises 
of literature. 

THE dandy’s rebellion 

Even after Sade’s time, men of letters still continue to dominate the 
scene. Romanticism, with its satanic rebellion, serves only for 
adventures of the imagination. Like Sade, romanticism is separated 
from earlier forms of rebellion by its preference for evil and for the 
individual. B y putting emphasis on its powers of de fiance ^d 
r efusal, rebellion, a t this sta^, forgets its positive content. Since God 
claims all that is good m man, it is necessary to deride what is good 
afiTcEoose what is evil. Hatred of death and of injustice will lead, 
therefore, if not to the exercise at least to the vindication of evil and 

The struggle between Satan and death in Paradise Losty the 
fiivourite poem of the romantics, symbolizes this drama; all the more 


profoundly in that death (and, of course, sin) is the child of Satan. 
In order to combat evil, the rebel renounces good, because he con- 
siders himself innocent, and once again gives birth to evil. The 
romantic hero first of all brings about the profound and, so to speak, 
religious blending of good and evil.* This type of hero is ‘fatal’ 
because fate confuses good and evil without man being able to 
defend himself. Fate does not allow evaluations. It replaces them by 
the statement that ‘It is so* - which excuses everything, with the 
exception of the Creator who alone is responsible for this scandalous 
state of affairs. The romantic hero is also ‘ fatal ’ because, to the extent 
that he increases in power and genius, the power of evil increases in 
him. Every manifestation of power, every excess is thus covered by 
this ‘It is so*. That the artist, particularly the poet, should be 
demoniac, is a very ancient idea which is formulated, provocatively, 
in the work of the romantics. At this period, there is even a demoniac 
imperialism whose aim is to annex everything, even the orthodox 
genius. ‘What made Milton write with constraint*, Blake observes, 
‘when he spoke of angels and of God, and with audacity when he 
spoke of demons and of hell, is that he was a real poet and on the side 
of the demons, without knowing it.* The poet, the genius, man him- 
self in his most exalted image, therefore cry out simultaneously with 
Satan: ‘So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear, farewell 
remorse. . . . Evil, be thou my good.* It is the cry of outraged 

The romantic hero, therefore, considers himself compelled to do 
evil by his nostalgia for impracticable good. Satan rises against his 
creator because the latter employed force to subjugate him. ‘Whom 
reason hath equal’d,* says Milton’s Satan, ‘force hath made above 
his equals.* Divine violence is thus explicitly condemned. The rebel 
flees from this aggressive and unworthy God, ‘Farthest from him is 
best*, and reigns over all the forces hostile to the divine order. The 
Prince of Darkness has only chosen this path because good is a notion 
defined and utilized by God for unjust purposes. Even innocence 
irritates the Rebel in so far as it implies being duped. This ‘dark 
* A dominant theme in William Blake^ for example. 



spirit of evil who is enraged by innocence* creates a human injustice 
parallel to divine injustice. Since violence is at the root of all creation, 
dehberate violence shall be its answer. An excess of despair adds to 
the causes of despair and brings rebellion to that state of con- 
temptible debility which follows the long experience of injustice and 
where the distinction between good and evil finally disappears. 
Vigny’s Satan can 

... no longer find in good or evil any pleasure 

nor of the sorrow that he causes take the measure. 

This gives a definition of nihilism and authorizes murder. 

Murder, in fact, is on the way to becoming attractive. It is enough 
to compare the Lucifer of the renaissance painters with the Satan 
of the romantics. An adolescent ‘young, sad, charming* (Vigny) 
replaces the homed beast. ‘Beautiful, with a beauty unknown on this 
earth* (Lermontov), solitary and powerful, unhappy and scornful, he 
is off-hand even in oppression. But his excuse is sorrow. ‘Who here*, 
says Milton’s Satan, ‘will envy whom the highest place . . . condemns 
to greatest share of endless pain.* So many injustices suffered, a 
sorrow so unrelieved, justify every excess. The rebel can therefore 
allow himself certain advantages. Murder, of course, is not recom- 
mended for its own sake. But it is implicit in the value - supreme for 
the romantic - attached to frenzy. Frenzy is the reverse of boredom: 
Lorenzaccio dreams of Han of Iceland. Exquisite sensibilities evoke 
the elementary furies of the beast. The B5n:onic hero, incapable of 
love, or only capable of an impossible love, suffers endlessly. He is 
solitary, languid, his condition exhausts him. If he wants to feel alive, 
it must be in the terrible exaltation of a brief and destmctive action. 
To love someone whom you will never see again is to love like a 
flame and to cry out for self-annihilation into the bargain. One lives 
only in and for the moment, in order to achieve 

the brief and vivid union 
of a tempestuous heart united to the tempest. 




The threat of mortality which hangs over us sterilizes everything. 
Only the cry of anguish can bring us to life; exaltation takes the 
place of truth. To this extent, the apocalypse becomes an absolute 
value in which everything is confounded - love and death, conscience 
and culpabihty. In a topsy-turvy universe no other life exists but that 
of the abyss where, according to Alfred Le Poittevin, human beings 
come ‘trembling with rage and exulting in their crimes* to curse the 
Creator. The intoxication of frenzy and, ultimately, crime reveal, in a 
moment, the whole meaning of a life. Without exactly advocating 
crime, the romantics insist on paying homage to a basic system of 
revenge which they illustrate with the conventional images of the 
outlaw, the criminal with the heart of gold, and the kind brigand. 
Their works are bathed in blood and shrouded in mystery. The soul 
is delivered, at minimum expenditure, of its most hideous desires - 
desires which will later be assuaged in extermination camps. Of 
course these works are also a challenge to the society of the times. 

[ But romanticism, at the source of its inspiration, is chiefly concerned 
with defying moral and divine law. That is why its most original 
creation is not primarily the revolutionary, but logically enough, the 

Logically, because this obstinate persistence in satanism can only 
be justified by the endless affirmation of injustice and, to a certain 
extent, by its consolidation. Pain, at this stage, is only acceptable on 
condition that it is incurable. The rebel chooses the metaphysics of 
‘expecting the worst’, which is expressed in the literature of damna- 
tion from which we have not yet escaped. ‘I was conscious of my 
power and I was conscious of my chains’ (Petrus Borel). But these 
chains are valuable objects. Without them it would be necessary to 
prove, or to exercise, this power which, after all, one is not very sure 
of having. It is only too easy to end up by becoming a government 
employee in Algiers, and Prometheus, like the above-mentioned 
Borel, will devote the rest of his days to closing the cabarets and 
reforming colonial morals. All the same, every poet to be received 
into the fold must be damned. Charles Lassailly, the same one who 
planned a philosophic novel Robespierre and Jesus Christy never went 



to bed \inthout uttering several fervent blasphemies to give himself 
courage. Rebellion puts on mourning and exhibits itself for public 
admiration. Much more than the cult of the individual, romanticism 
inaugurates the cult of the ‘character*. It is at this point that it is 
logical. Hoping no longer for the rule or unity of God, determined to 
take up arms against an antagonistic destiny, anxious to preserve 
everything of which the living are still capable in a world dedicated 
to death, romantic rebellion looked for a solution in the attitude it 
assumed. The attitude brought together, in aesthetic unity, all man- 
kind who were in the hands of fate and destroyed by divine violence. 
The human being who is condemned to death is, at least, magnificent, 
before he disappears, and his magnificence is his justification. It is an 
established fact, the only one that can be thrown in the petrified face 
of the God of Hate. The impassive rebel does not flinch before the 
eyes of God. ‘Nothing’, says Milton, ‘will change this determined 
mind, this high disdain bom of an offended conscience.’ Everything 
is drawn or rushes towards the void, but even though man is 
humiliated, he is obstinate and at least preserves his pride. A 
baroque romantic, discovered by Raymond Queneau, claims that the 
aim of all intellectual life is to become God. This genuine romantic 
is a little ahead of his time. The aim, at that time, was only to equal 
God and remain on His level. He is not destroyed, but by incessant 
effort He is never submitted to. Dandyism is a degraded form of 

The dandy creates his own unity by aesthetic means. But it is an 
aesthetic of singularity and of negation. ‘To live and die before a 
mirror’: that, according to Baudelaire, was the dandy’s slogan ... It 
is a coherent slogan, at any rate. Th e dandy is, by occupa tion^ always 
in o pposition. He can only exist by defiance. Up till now, man derived 
his coherence from his Creator. But from the moment that he 
consecrates his rupture with Him, he finds himself delivered over to 
the fleeting moment, to the passing days, and to wasted sensibility. 
Therefore he must take himself in hand. The dandy rallies his forces 
and creates a unity for himself by the very violence of his refusal. 
Disoriented, like all people without a rule of life, he is coherent as a 



diaracter. But a character implies a public; the dandy can only play 
a part by setting himself up in opposition. He can only be sure of his 
own existence by finding it in the expression of others’ faces. Other 
people are his mirror. A mirror that quickly becomes obscured, it is 
true, since human capacity for attention is limited. It must be 
ceaselessly stimulated, spurred on by provocation. The dandy is, 
therefore, always compelled to astonish. Singularity is his vocation, 
excess his way to perfection. Perpetually incomplete, always on the 
margin of things, he compels others to create him, while denying 
their values. He plays at life because he is unable to live it. He plays 
at it until he dies, except for the moments when he is alone and with- 
out a mirror. For the dandy, to be alone is not to exist. The romantics 
only talked so grandly about solitude because it was their real horror, 
the one thing they could not bear. Their rebellion thrusts its roots 
deep, but from the Abb6 Provost’s Cleveland up to the time of the 
Dadaists - including the frenetics of 1830 and Baudelaire and the 
decadents of 1880 - more than a century of rebellion was completely 
satiated by the audacities of ‘eccentricity’. If they all were able to 
talk of unhappiness it is because they despaired of ever being able to 
conquer it, except in futile comedies, and because they instinctively 
felt that it remained their sole excuse and their real claim to nobility. 

That is why the heritage of romanticism was not claimed by Victor 
Hugo, peer of the realm, but by Baudelaire and Lacenaire, poets of 
crime. ‘Everything in this world exudes crime,’ says Baudelaire, ‘the 
newspaper, the walls, and the face of man.’ Nevertheless crime, 
which is the law of nature, singularly fails to wear a distinguished air. 
Lacenaire, the first of the gentleman criminals, exploits it effectively; 
Baudelaire displays less tenacity but is a genius. He creates the 
garden of evil where crime only figures as one of the rarer species. 
Terror itself becomes an exquisite sensation and a collector’s item 
‘Not only would I be happy to be a victim, but I would not even hate 
being an executioner in order to feel the revolution from both sides.’ 
Even Baudelaire’s conformity has the odour of crime. If he chose 
Maistre as his master, it is to the extent that this conservative goes as 
far as he can and centres his doctrine on death and on the executioner. 



‘The real samt% Baudelaire pretends to think, ‘is someone who flogs 
and kills people for their own good.* His argument will be heard. A 
race of real saints is beginning to spread over the earth for the 
purpose of confirming these curious conclusions about rebellion. But 
Baudelaire, despite his satanic arsenal, his taste for Sade, his blas- 
phemies, remains too much of a theologian to be a real rebel. His 
real drama, which made him the greatest poet of his time, was some- 
thing else. Baudelaire can only be cited here to the extent that he was 
the most profound theoretician of dandyism and gave definite form 
to one of the conclusions of romantic rebellion. 

Romanticism demonstrates, in fact, that rebellion is part and parcel 
of dandyism: one of its objectives is outward appearances. In its 
conventional forms, dandyism admits a nostalgia for ethics. It is only 
honour degraded as a point of honour. But at the same time it 
inaugurates an aesthetic which is still valid in our world, an aesthetic 
of solitary creators, who are obstinate rivals of a God they condemn. 
From romanticism onward, the artist’s task will not only be to 
create a world, or to exalt beauty for its own sake, but also to define 
an attitude. Th us the artist be come a model and offe rs himself as an 
exam ple: art is Ws ethic. With him begins the age of the dir^ors of 
co^cience.^V^en the dandies fail to commit suicide or do not go 
mad, they make a career and pursue prosperity. Even when, like 
Vigny, they exdaim that they are going to keep quiet, their silence is 

But at the very heart of romanticism, the sterility of this attitude 
becomes apparent to a few rebels who provide a transitional type 
between the eccentrics and our revolutionary adventurers. Between 
the days of the eighteenth-century eccentric and the ‘adventurers’ of 
the twentieth century, Byron and Shelley are already fighting, how- 
ever ostentatiously, for freedom. 

The Rejection of Salvation 

IF the romantic rebel exalts evil and the individual, he does not do so 
on behalf of mankind, but merely on his own behalf. Dandyism, of 
whatever kind, is always dandyism in relation to God. The individual, 
in so far as he is created being, can oppose himself only to the 
Creator. He has need of God with whom he carried on a kind of 
baleful intrigue. Armand Hoog rightly says that, despite the Nietz- 
schean atmosphere of such works, God is not yet dead in them. The 
damnation, so clamorously demanded, is only a clever trick played on 
God. But with Dostoyevsky th e j.ccount of reunion goes a step 
farthefTT ^h Elarama ^y sid^ with mac^nd and stresses human 
innocence. He affirms that the death sentence which hangs over them 
is un just. FST rom m aking a plea for evil, his first impulse, at least, 
is to plead for justice which he ranks above divinity. He does not 
ibioTut^lieny the existence of God. He refutes Him in the name of 
a moral value. The romantic rebel’s ambition was to talk to God as 
man to man. Here evil was the answer to evil, pride the answer to 
cruelty. Vigny’s ideal, for example, is to answer silence with silence. 
Obviously, the point is to raise oneself to the level of God, and that is 
already blasphemy. But there is no thought of disputing the power or 
position of the deity. The^lasphemy is reverent, since every 
bla^hemy is, ultimately, a participation in holiness. 

With Ivan, however, the tone changes. God is put on trial, in His 
turn. If evil is essential to divine creation, then creation is un- 
acceptable. Ivan will no longer have recourse to this mysterious God, 
but to a higher principle, namely justice. He launches the essential 
undertaking of rebellion, which is that of replacing the reign of 
grace by the reign of justice. Simultaneously, he begins the attack on 
Christianity. The romantic rebels broke with God for being the 
fountainhead of hate. Ivan explicitly rejects mystery and, conse- 
quently, God as the fountainhead of love. Only love can make us 



consent to the injustice done to Martha^ to the exploitation of workers^ 
and, to go a step farther, to the death of innocent children. 

‘If the suffering of children*, says Ivan, ‘serves to complete the 
sum of suffering necessary for the acquisition of truth, I affirm from 
now onwards that truth is not worth such a price.* Ivan rejects the 
profound relationship, introduced by Christianity, between suffering 
and truth. Ivan*s most profound utterance, the one which opens the 
deepest chasms beneath the rebel*s feet, is his even if\ ‘ I would persist 
in my indignation, even if I were wrong.* Which means that even if 
God existed, even if the mystery cloaked a truth, even if Zosime were 
right, Ivan would not admit that truth should be paid for by evil, 
suffering, and the death of innocents. I van incarnates the refu sal of 
salvation. Faith leads to immortal life, but faith presumes the 
acceptanaj'ofTlie^iHystefy^Md of e^ and r^gnation toTnjuisti^^ 
Tl^mairt^nis prev^Ted by the suffering of childrcm from accept- 
ing faiith v® certainly not accept eternal life. Under these con- 
ditions^ if eten^ life existed, Ivan would refuse it. He rejects 
this bargain. He would only accept grace unconditionally and that is 
why he makes his own conditions. Rebellion wants all or nothing. 

the kno wledge in the world is not worth a child*s tears.* Ivan 
does not say that there is no truth. He says that iT truth does 
e£st n^c^ offiy be Why? Bcca,use it is unjust. The 

struggle between truth and justice is brought into the open for the 
fi^t time it will never end. Ivan, by nature a solitary and there- 
fore a jnor^st^wiQ satisfy himself with a kind of metaphysical Don 
Quixotism. But a few decades more and a huge political conspiracy 
will attempt to prove that justice is truth. 

In addition, Ivan is the incarnation of the refusal to be the only 
one saved. He throws in his lot with the damned, and for their 
sake rejects eternity. If he had faith, he could, in fact, be saved, but 
others would be damned and suffering would continue. There is no 
possible salvation for the man who feels real compassion. fyan_ will 
CQQtouc to put God in the wrong by doubly rejecting faith as he 
w ould rejec t injustice md privilege. One step more and froim^// or 
Nothing we arrive at All or No one. 



This extreme determination, and the attitude that it implies, 
would have suflSced for the romantics. But Ivan"^ even though he 
also gives way to dandyism, really lives his problems, tom between 
the negative and the afl&rmative. From this moment onwards, he 
accepts the consequences. If he rejects immortality, what remains for 
him ? Life in its most elementary form. When the meaning of life has 
been suppressed, there still remains life. ‘I live,* says Ivan, ‘in spite 
of logic.* And again: ‘ If I no longer had any faith in life, if I doubted 
a woman I loved, or the universal order of things, if I were persuaded, 
on the contrary, that everything was only an infernal and accursed 
chaos - even then, I would want to live.* Ivan will live, then, and will 
love as well ‘without knowing why*. But to live is also to act. To act 
in the name of what ? If there is no immortality, then there is neither 
reward nor punishment. ‘I believe that there is no virtue without 
immortality,* And also: ‘I only know that suffering exists, that no 
one is guilty, that everything is connected, that everything passes and 
equals out.* But if there is no virtue, there is no law: ‘All is per- 

With this ‘all is permitted* the history of contemporary nihilism 
really begins. Romantic rebellion did not go so far. It was content 
with saying, in short, that everything was not permitted but that, 
through insolence, it allowed itself to do what was forbidden. On 
the other hand, with the Karamazovs the logic of indignation turned 
rebellion against itself and confronted it with a desperate contra- 
diction. The essential difference is that the romantics allowed them- 
selves to be complacent, while Ivan compelled himself to do evil so 
as to be coherent. He would not allow himself to be good. Nihilism is 
not only despair and negation, but above all the desire to despair and 
to negate. The very man who so violently took the part of innocence, 
who trembled at the suffering of a child, who wanted to see ‘with his 
own eyes* the lamb lie down with the lion, the victim embrace his 
murderer, from the moment that he rejects divine coherence and 
tries to discover his own rule of life, recognizes the legitimacy of 

* It is worth noting that Ivan is, in a certain way, Dostoyevsky, who is 
more at his ease in this role than in the role of Alyosha. 



murder. Ivan rebels against a murderous God; but from the moment 
that he begins to consider the reasons for his rebellion, he deduces 
the law of murder. If all is permitted, he can kill his father or at 
least allow him to be killed. Long reflection on our condition as 
people sentenced to death only leads to the justification of crime, 
Ivan simultaneously hates the death penalty (describing an execution, 
he says ferociously: ‘His head fell, in the name of divine grace’) and 
condones crime, in principle. Every indulgence is allowed the 
murderer, none is allowed the executioner. This contradiction, which 
Sade swallowed with ease, chokes Ivan Karamazov. 

He pretends to reason as though immortality did not, in fact 
exist, while he only goes so far as to say that he would refuse it if it 
did exist. In order to protest against evil and death, he deliberately 
chooses to say that virtue exists no more than does immortality and 
to allow his father to be killed. He consciously accepts his dilemma; 
to be virtuous and illogical, or logical and criminal. His double, the 
devil, is right when he whispers: ‘You are going to commit a virtuous 
aa and yet you do not believe in virtue, that is what angers and 
torments you.’ The question which Ivan finally poses, the question 
which constitutes the real progress achieved by Dostoyevsky in the 
history of rebelhon, is the only one we are interested in here: can one 
hve^d hold on^s jjqmd m^a state of rebeUion?^ 

Ivan allows us to guess his answer: one only live in a permanent 
state of rebellion by pursuing it to the bitter end. What is the bitter 
end of metaphysical rebellion ? Metaphysical revolution. The master 
of the world, after his legitimacy has been contested, must be over- 
thrown. Man must occupy his place. ‘As God and immortality do not 
e xist, th e new man is permitted to become god? But what does 
becommg god mean ? To recogik e any other law but one’s own. 
Without It BSng necessary to dev36p 13ie~ihTeiv^ arguments, 
we can see that to b ecome Go d is to accept crime (a favourite idea of 
Dostoyevsky’s intelleauals). Ivan’s personal problem is then to know 
if he can be faithful to his logic and if, on the grounds of an indignant 
protest at innocent suffering, he can accept the murder of his father 
with the indifference of a man-god. We know his solution: Ivan 



allows his father to be killed. Too profound to be satisfied with 
appearances, too sensitive to perform the deed himself, he is content 
to allow it to be done. But he goes mad. The man who could not 
understand how one could love one^s neighbour, cannot imderstand, 
either, how one can kill him. Caught between unjustifiable con- 
ceptions of virtue and unacceptable crime, consumed with pity and 
incapable of love, a solitary deprived of the benefits of cynicism, this 
man of supreme intelligence is killed by contradiction. ‘My mind is 
of this world,* he said, ‘what good is it to try to understand what is 
not ?* But he only lived for what is not of this world, and his proud 
search for the absolute is precisely what removed him firom the 
world of which he loved no part. 

The fact that Ivan was defeated does not obviate the fact that once 
the problem is posed, the consequence must follow: rebellion has 
started on the path of action. This has already been demonstrated by 
Dostoyevsky, with prophetic intensity, in his legend of the Grand 
Inquisitor. Ivan, finally, does not separate the creator from his 
creation. ‘It is not God whom I reject,* he says, ‘it is creation.* In 
other words it is God the father, inseparable from what He has 
created. His plot to usurp the throne, therefore, remains completely 
moral. He does not want to reform anjrthing in creation. But creation 
being what it is, he claims the right to free himself of it morally and 
to firee all the rest of mankind with him. On the other hand, from the 
moment that the spirit of rebellion, having accepted the concept of 
*aU is permitted’ and ‘everyone or no one*, aims at reconstructing 
creation in order to assert the sovereignty and divinity of man ~ from 
the moment that metaphysical rebellion extends itself from ethics to 
politics - a new undertaking, of incalculable import, begins, which is 
also bom, we must note, of the same nihihsm. Dostoyevsky, the 
prophet of the new religion, had foreseen and announced it: ‘If 
Alyosha had come to the conclusion that neither God nor im- 
mortality existed, he would have immediately become an atheist and 
a socialist. For socialism is not only a question of the working classes, 
it is, above all, in its contemporary incarnation, a question of 
atheism, a question of the tower of Babel which is constructed with- 



out God's help, not to reach the heavens, but to bring the heavens 
down to earth/ 

After that Alyosha can in fact treat Ivan with compassion as a 
‘real greenhorn’. The latter only made an attempt at self-domination 
and failed. Others will appear who are more serious-minded and who, 
on the basis of the same despairing nihilism, are going to demand to 
rule the world. These are the Grand Inquisitors who imprison 
Christ and come to tell Him that His is not the right method, that 
universal happiness cannot be achieved by the immediate freedom of 
choosing between good and evil, but by the domination and unifica- 
tion of the world. The first step is to conquer and rule. The kingdom 
of heaven will, in fact, appear on earth, but it will be ruled over by 
men - a mere handful to begin with who will be the Caesars, the ones 
who were the first to understand - and later, with time, by all men. 
The unity of all creation will be achieved by every possible means, 
since everything is permitted. The Grand Inquisitor is old and tired, 
for the knowledge he possesses is bitter. He knows that men are lazy 
rather than cowardly and that they prefer peace and death to the 
liberty of discerning between good and evil. He has pity, a cold pity, 
for the silent prisoner whom history endlessly deceives. He urges him 
to speak, to recognize his misdeeds, and, in one sense, to approve the 
undertaking of the Inquisitors and of the Caesars. But the prisoner 
does not speak. The enterprise will continue, therefore, without him: 
he will be killed. Legitimacy will come at the end of time when the 
kingdom of men is assured. ‘The affair has only just begun, it is far 
from being terminated, and the world has many other things to 
suffer, but we shall achieve our aim, we shall be Caesar, and mean- 
while we shall dream of universal happiness.’ 

Long before that, the prisoner will have been executed: the Grand 
Inquisitors reign alone, listening to ‘the profound spirit, the spirit 
of destruction and death’. The Grand Inquisitors proudly refuse 
freedom and the bread of heaven and offer the bread of this earth 
without freedom. ‘Come down from the cross and we shall believe in 
you’, their police agents already cry on Golgotha. But He does not 
come down and, even, at the most tortured moment of His agony, he 



protests to God at having been abandoned. There are thus no other 
proofs but faith and the mystery that the rebels reject and the Grand 
Inquisitors scoff at. Everything is permitted and centuries of crime 
are prepared in that cataclysmic moment. From Paul to Stalin, the 
popes who have chosen Qesar have prepared the way for Qesars 
who quickly learn to despise popes. The unity of the world which was 
not achieved with God will, nevertheless, be attempted without 

But we have not yet reached that point. For the moment, Ivan 
only offers us the tortured face of the rebel plunged in the abyss, 
incapable of action, tom between the idea of his own innocence and 
his desire to kill. He hates the death penalty because it is the image 
of the human condition, and, at the same time, he is drawn to crime. 
For having taken the side of mankind, solitude is his lot. With him the 
rebellion of reason ends in madness. 

Absolute Affirmation 

When man submits God to moral judgement, he kills Him in his 
own heart. And then what is the basis of morality ? God is denied in 
the name of justice but can the idea of justice be understood without 
the idea of God ? Have we not arrived at absurdity ? It is absurdity 
that Nietzsche meets face to face. The better to avoid it, he pushes 
it to extremities: morahty is the final aspect of God which must be 
destroyed before the period of reconstruction begins. Then God no 
longer exists and no longer guarantees our existence ; man, in order to 
exist, must decide to act. 

‘We deny God, we deny the responsibility of God, it is only thus 
that we will deliver the world.’ With Nietzsche, nihilism seems to 
become prophetic. But we can draw no conclusions from Nietzsche, 
except the base and mediocre cruelty that he hated with all his 
strength, unless we give first place in his work - well ahead of the 
prophet - to the diagnostician. The provisional, methodical, strategic 
character of his thought cannot be doubted for a moment. With him, 
nihilism becomes conscious for the first time. Diagnosticians have 
this in common with prophets - they think and operate in terms of 
the future. Nietzsche never thought except in terms of an apocalypse 
to come, not in order to extol it, for he guessed the sordid and cal- 
culating aspect that this apocal5rpse would finally assume, but in order 
to avoid it and to transform it into a renaissance. He recognized 
nihilism for what it was and examined it like a clinical fact. 

He said of himself that he was the first complete nihilist of 
Europe. Not by choice, but by condition, and because he was too 
great to refuse the heritage of his time. He diagnosed in himself, and 
in others, the inability to believe and the disappearance of the 
primitive foundation of all faith -- namely the belief in life. The ‘ Can 
one live as a rebel ? ’ became with him ‘ Can one five, believing in 
nothing?’ His reply is in the affirmative. Yes, if one creates a 



system out of absence of faith, if one accepts the final consequences 
of nihilism, and if, on emerging into the desert and putting one’s 
confidence in what is going to come, one feels, with the same 
primitive instinct, both pain and joy. 

Instead of systematic doubt, he practised systematic negation, the 
determined destruction of everything that still hides nihilism from 
itself, of the idols which camouflage God’s death. ‘To raise a new 
sanctuary, a sanctuary must be destroyed, that is the law.’ According 
to Nietzsche, he who wants to be a creator of good and of evil, must 
first of all destroy all values. ‘Thus the supreme evil becomes part 
of the supreme good, but the supreme good is creative.’ He wrote, 
in his own manner, the Discours de la Mdthode of his period, without 
the freedom and exactitude of the seventeenth-century French he 
admired so much, but with the mad lucidity which characterizes the 
twentieth century which, according to him, is the century of 

Nietzsche’s first step is to accept what he knows. Atheism for him 
goes without saying and is ‘constructive and radical’. Nietzsche’s 
superior vocation, so he says, is to provoke a kind of crisis and a final 
decision about the problem of atheism. The world continues on its 
course at random and there is nothing final about it. Thus God is 
useless, since He wants nothing in particular. If He wanted some- 
thing, and here we recognize the traditional formulation of the 
problem of evil, we would have to assume Him responsible for ‘a 
sum-total of pain and inconsistency which would debase the entire 
value of being bom ’. We know that Nietzsche was publicly envious 
of Stendhal’s formula: ‘the only excuse for God is that he does not 
exist’. Deprived of the divine will, the world is equally deprived of 
unity and finality. That is why it is impossible to pass judgement on 
the world. Any attempt to apply a standard of values to the world 
leads finally to a slander on life. Judgements are based on what is, 
with reference to what should be - the kingdom of heaven, eternal 
concepts, or moral imperatives. But what should be does not exist: 
and this world cannot be judged in the name of nothing. ‘The 
advantages of our times; nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ 



These magnificent or ironic formulae, which are echoed by thousands 
of others, at any rate suffice to demonstrate that Nietzsche accepts 
the entire burden of nihilism and rebellion. In his somewhat puerile 
reflections on ‘training and selection’ he even formulated the extreme 
logic of nihilistic reasoning: ‘Problem: by what means could we 
obtain an exact definition of nihilism in its most extreme and 
infectious aspect which would teach and practise, with a completely 
scientific awareness, voluntary death?’ 

But Nietzsche enlists values in the cause of nihilism which, 
traditionally, have been considered as restraints on nihilism - 
principally morality. Moral conduct, as explained by Socrates, or as 
recommended by Christianity, is in itself a sign of decadence. It 
wants to substitute the mere shadow of a man for a man of flesh and 
blood. It condemns the universe of passion and emotion in the name 
of an entirely imaginary world of harmony. If nihilism is the inability 
to believe, then its most serious symptom is not found in atheism, 
but in the inability to believe in what is, to see what is happening, and 
to live life as it is offered. This infirmity is at the root of all idealism. 
Morality has no faith in the world. For Nietzsche, real morality 
cannot be separated from lucidity. He is severe on the ‘calumniators 
of the world’ because he discerns in the calumny a shameful taste for 
evasion. Traditional morality, for him, is only a special type of 
immorality. ‘It is virtue’, he says, ‘which has need of justification.* 
And again : ‘ It is for moral reasons that good will, one day, cease to be 

Nietzsche’s philosophy, undoubtedly, revolves around the 
problem of rebellion. More precisely, it begins by being a rebellion. 
But we sense the change of position that Nietzsche makes. With 
him, rebellion begins at ‘God is dead’ which is assumed as an 
established fact; then rebellion hinges on everything that aims at 
falsely replacing the vanished deity and reflects dishonour on a world 
which undoubtedly has no direction but which remains the only 
proving-ground of the gods. Contrary to the opinion of certain of his 
Christian critics, Nietzsche did not form a project to kill God. He 
found Him dead in the soul of his contemporaries. He was the first 



to understand the immense importance of the event and to decide 
that this rebellion among men could not lead to a renaissance unless 
it were controlled and directed. Any other attitude towards it, 
whether it were regret or complacency, must lead to the apocalypse. 
Thus Nietzsche did not formulate a philosophy of rebellion, but 
constructed a philosophy on rebellion. 

If he attacks Christianity in particular, it is only in so far as it 
represents morality. He always leaves intact the person of Jesus on 
the one hand, and on the other the cynical aspects of the Church. We 
know that he admired, from the point of view of the connoisseur, the 
Jesuits. ‘Basically,’ he writes, ‘only the God of morality is rejected.’ 
Christ, for Nietzsche as for Tolstoy, is not a rebel. The essence of 
His doctrine is summed up in total consent and in non-resistance to 
evil. Thou shalt not kill, even to prevent killing. The world must be 
accepted as it is, nothing must be added to its unhappiness, but you 
must consent to suffer personally from the evil it contains. The king- 
dom of heaven is within our immediate reach. Not faith but deeds - 
that, according to Nietzsche, is Christ’s message. From then on, the 
history of Christianity is nothing but a long betrayal of this message. 
The New Testament is already corrupt, and from the time of Paul 
until the Councils subservience to faith has led to the obliteration of 

What is the profoundly corrupt addition made by Christianity to 
the message of its Master? The idea of judgement, completely 
foreign to the teachings of Christ, and the correlative notions of 
punishment and reward. From this moment, human nature becomes 
the subject of history, and significant history expressed by the idea 
of human totality is bom. From the Annunciation until the Last 
Judgement, humanity has no other task but to conform to the strictly 
moral ends of a narrative that has already been written. The only 
difference is that the characters, in the epilogue, separate themselves 
into the good and the bad. While Christ’s sole judgement consists in 
saying that the sins of nature are unimportant, historical Christianity 
makes nature the sole source of sin. ‘What does Christ deny ? Every- 
thing that, at the moment, bears the name Christian.’ Christianity 



believes that it is fighting against nihilism because it gives the world 
a sense of direction, while it is nihilist itself in so far as it prevents, in 
imposing an imaginary meaning on life, the discovery of its real 
meaning: ‘Every Church is a stone rolled onto the tomb of the man- 
god; it tried to prevent the resurrection, by force/ Nietzsche’s para- 
doxical but significant conclusion is that God had been killed by 
Christianity, in that Christianity has secularized the sacred. Here we 
must understand historical Christianity and ‘its profound and con- 
temptible duplicity’. 

The same process of reasoning leads to Nietzsche’s attitude to- 
wards socialism and all forms of humanitarianism. Socialism is only 
a degenerate form of Christianity. In reality, he preserves a belief in 
the finality of history which betrays life and nature, which substitutes 
ideal ends for real ends, and contributes to enervating both the will 
and the imagination. Socialism is nihilistic, in the henceforth precise 
sense which Nietzsche confers on the word. A nihilist is not someone 
who believes in nothing, but someone who does not believe in what he 
sees. In this sense, all forms of socialism are manifestations, degraded 
once again, of Christian decadence. For Christianity, reward and 
punishment imply the truth of history. But, by inescapable logic, all 
history ends by implying punishment and reward; and from this day 
on collective Messianism is born. Similarly, the equality of souls 
before God leads, now that God is dead, to equality pure and simple. 
There again, Nietzsche wages war against socialist doctrines in so far 
as they are moral doctrines. Nihilism, whether manifested in religion 
or in socialist preachings, is the logical conclusion of our so-called 
superior values. The free mind will destroy these values and 
denounce the illusions on which they are built, the bargaining that 
they imply, and the crime they commit in preventing the lucid 
intelligence from accomphshing its mission : of transforming passive 
nihilism into active nihilism. 

In this world rid of God and of moral idols, man is now alone and 
without a master. No one has been less inclined than Nietzsche (and 
in this way he distinguishes himself from the romantics) to allow 



himself to believe that such freedom would be easy. This unbridled 
freedom put him among the ranks of those of whom he himself said 
that they suffered a new form of anguish and a new form of happiness. 
But, at the beginning, it is only anguish which makes him cry out; 
*Alas, grant me madness. ... By being above the law, I am the most 
outcast of all outcasts.’ He who cannot stand his ground above the 
law, must find another law or take refuge in madness. From the 
moment that man believes neither in God nor in immortal life, he 
becomes ‘responsible for everything alive, for ever3rthmg that, bom 
of suffering, is condemned to suffer from fife’. It is to himself, and to 
himself alone, that he returns in order to find law and order. Then the 
time of exile begins, the endless search for justification, the nostalgia 
without an aim, ‘the most painful, the most heart-breaking question, 
that of the heart which asks itself: where can I feel at home ?’ 

Because his mind was free, Nietzsche knew that freedom of the 
mind is not a comfort, but an achievement that one aspires to and 
obtains, at long last, after an exhausting stmggle. He knew that there 
is a great risk in wanting to consider oneself above the law, of finding 
oneself beneath that law. That is why he understood that the mind 
only found its real emancipation in the acceptance of new obligations. 
If nothing is true, if the world is without order, then nothing is for- 
bidden; to prohibit an action, there must, in fact, be a standard of 
values and an aim. But, at the same time, nothing is authorized; there 
must also be values and aims in order to choose another course of 
action. Absolute domination by the law does not represent liberty, 
but nor does absolute freedom of choice. Chaos is also a form of 
servitude. Freedom only exists in a world where what is possible is 
defined at the same time as what is not possible. Without law there is 
no freedom. If fate is not guided by superior values, if chance is king 
then there is nothing but the step in the dark and the appalling 
freedom of the blind. At the conclusion of the most complete libera- 
tion, Nietzsche therefore chooses the most complete subordination. 
‘If we do not make of God’s death a great renunciation and a 
perpetual victory over ourselves, we shall have to pay for that 
omission.’ In other words, with Nietzsche, rebellion ends in ascetic- 



ism. A profoimder logic replaces the ‘if nothing is true, everything is 
permitted^ of Karamazov by ‘if nothing is true, nothing is permitted*. 
To deny that one single thing is forbidden in this world amounts to 
renouncing everything that is permitted. At the point where it is no 
longer possible to say what is black and what is white, the light is 
extinguished and freedom becomes a voluntary prison. 

It can be said that Nietzsche rushes, with a kind of frightful joy, 
towards the impasse into which he methodically drives his nihilism. 
His avowed aim is to render the situation untenable to his contem- 
poraries. His only hope seems to be to arrive at the extremity of 
contradiction. Then if man does not wish to perish in the coils that 
strangle him, he will have to cut them at a single blow, and create his 
own values. The death of God accomplishes nothing and can only be 
lived through in terms of preparing a resurrection. ‘ If we fail to find 
grandeur in God,’ says Nietzsche, ‘we find it nowhere; it must be 
denied or created.’ To deny was the task of the world around him 
which he saw rushing towards suicide. To create was the super- 
human task for which he was willing to die. He knew in fact that 
creation is only possible in the extremity of solitude and that man 
would only commit himself to this staggering task if, in the most 
extreme distress of mind, he must undertake it or perish. Nietzsche 
cries out to man that his only truth is the world - to which he must be 
faithful and on which he must live and find his salvation. But, at the 
same time, he teaches him that to live in a lawless world is impossible 
because to live implies, explicitly, the law. How can one live freely 
and without law ? To this enigma, man must find an answer, on pain 
of death. 

Nietzsche, at least, does not flinch. He answers and his answer is 
bold: Damocles never danced better than beneath the sword. One 
must accept the unacceptable and contend the untenable. From the 
moment that it is admitted that the world pursues no end, Nietzsche 
proposes to concede its innocence, to affirm that it accepts no judge- 
ment since it cannot be judged on any intention, and consequently 
to replace all judgements based on values by absolute assent, a com- 
plete and exalted allegiance to this world. Thus, from absolute 



despair will spring infinite joy, from blind servitude fireedom without 
obligation. To be free is, precisely, to abolish ends. The innocence 
of the ceaseless change of things, as soon as one consents to it, re- 
presents the maximum liberty. The free mind willingly accepts what 
is necessary. Nietzsche’s most intimate concept is that the necessity 
of phenomena, if it is absolute, does not imply any kind of restraint. 
Total acceptance of total necessity is his paradoxical definition of 
freedom. The question ‘ Free of what ? ’ is thus replaced by ‘ Free for 
what?’ Liberty coincides with heroism. It is the asceticism of the 
great man: ‘the bow bent to the breaking-point’. 

This magnificent consent, bom of affluence and fullness of spirit, 
is the unreserved affirmation of human imperfection and suffering, 
of evil and murder, of all that is problematic and strange in our 
existence. It is bom of an arrested wish to be what one is in a world 
which is what it is. ‘To consider oneself a fatality, not to wish to be 
other than one is . . .’ The Nietzschean experiment, which is part of 
the recognition of fatality, ends in a deification of fate. The more 
implacable destiny is, the more it becomes worthy of adoration. A 
moral God, pity, and love are enemies of fate to the extent that they 
try to make amends for it. Nietzsche wants no redemption. The joy 
of self-realization is the joy of annihilation. But only the individual is 
annihilated. The movement of rebellion, in which man claimed his 
own self, disappears in the individual’s absolute submission to self- 
realization. Amor fati replaces what was an odium fati, ‘Every indi- 
vidual collaborates with the entire cosmos, whether we know it or 
not, whether we want it or not.’ The individual is lost in the destiny 
of the species and the eternal movement of the spheres. ‘Everyone 
who has existed is eternal, the sea throws him back upon the shore.’ 

Nietzsche then returns to the origins of thought - to the pre- 
Socratics. The latter suppressed ultimate causes so as to leave intact 
the eternal values of the principles they upheld. Only power without 
purpose, only Heraclitus’s ‘strife’, is eternal. Nietzsche’s whole 
effort is direaed towards demonstrating the existence of laws which 
govern funne events and that there is an element of chance in the 
inevitable: ‘A child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new b^inning, 



a gamble, a wheel which spins automatically, a first step, the diviue 
gift of consent/ The world is divine because the world is illogical. 
That is why art alone, by being equally illogical, is capable of grasping 
it. It is impossible to give a clear account of the world, but art can 
teach us to reproduce it - just as the world reproduces itself in the 
course of its eternal gyrations. The primordial sea indefatigably 
repeats the same words and casts up the same astonished beings on 
the same sea-shore. But at least he who consents to his own return 
and to the return of all things, who becomes an echo and an exalted 
echo, participates in the divinity of the world. 

By this subterfuge, the divinity of man is finally introduced. The 
rebel, who at first denies God, finally aspires to replace him. But 
Nietzsche’s message is that the rebel can only become God by 
entirely renouncing rebellion, even the type of rebellion that pro- 
duces gods to chastise humanity. Tf there is a God, how can one 
tolerate not being God oneself?’ There is, in fact, a god . . . namely 
the world. To participate in his divinity, all that is necessary is to 
consent. ‘No longer to pray, but to give one’s blessing’, and the earth 
will abound in men-gods. To say yes to the world, to reproduce it, is 
simultaneously to recreate the world and oneself, to become the great 
artist, the creator. Nietzsche’s message is summed up in the word 
‘creation’, with the ambiguous meaning it has assumed. Nietzsche’s 
sole admiration was for the egotism and austerity proper to all 
creators. The transmutation of values consists only in replacing 
critical values by creative values ; by respect and admiration for what 
exists. Divinity without immortality defines the extent of the creator’s 
freedom. Dionysos, the earth-god, shrieks eternally as he is torn 
limb from limb. But at the same time he represents the agonized 
beauty which is the result of suffering, Nietzsche thought that to 
accept this earth and Dionysos was to accept his own sufferings. And 
to accept everything, both suffering and the supreme contradiction 
simultaneously, was to be king. Nietzsche agreed to pay the price for 
his kingdom. Only the ‘sad and suffering’ world is true - the world 
is the only divinity. Like Empedocles who threw himself down Etna 
to find truth in the only place where it exists, namely in the bowels 



of the earth, Nietzsche proposed that man should allow himself to 
be engulfed in the cosmos in order to rediscover his eternal divinity 
and to become Dionysos himself. The Will to Power ends, like 
Pascal’s Pensies of which it so often reminds us, with a wager. Man 
does not yet obtain assurance but only the wish for assurance which 
is not at all the same thing. Nietzsche, too, hesitated on this brink: 
‘That is what is unforgivable in you. You have the authority and you 
refuse to sign.’ Yet, finally, he had to sign. But the name of Dionysos 
only immortalized the notes to Ariadne which he wrote when he was 

In a certain sense, rebellion, w ith N i etzsche, ends aga in in the 
exaltation^ of eviirTEediffSence is that^il is no longer a revenge. 
It is accepted as one of the possible aspects of good and, with rather 
more conviction, as part of destiny. Thus he considers it as some- 
thing to be avoided and also as a sort of remedy. In Ni etzsche’s min d, 
the only problem was to see that t he human spirit bowed pr oudly to 
tEe inevitable. We too w, however, his posterity and the kind of 
politics that were to be authorized by the man who claimed to be the 
last anti-political German. He dreamed of tyrants who were artists, 
but tyranny comes more naturally than art to mediocre men. ‘Rather 
Cesare Borgia than Parsifal,’ he exclaimed. He begat both Caesar 
and Borgia, but devoid of the distinction of feeling which he attri- 
buted to the great men of the Renaissance. As a result of his insistence 
that the individual should bow before the eternity of the species and 
should submerge himself in the great cycle of time, race had been 
turned into a special aspect of the species and the individual has been 
made to bow before this sordid god. The life of which he spoke with 
such fear and trembling has been degraded to a sort of biology for 
domestic use. Finally a race of vulgar overlords, with a blundering 
desire for power, adopted, in his name, the ‘ anti-semitic deformity’ 
on which he never ceased to pour scorn. 

He believed in courage combined with intelligence, and that was 
what he called strength. Courage has been turned against intelligence 
in his name; and the virtues that were really his have thus been 
transformed into their opposite . . . blind violence. He confused free- 



dom and solitude, as do all proud spirits. His ‘profound solitude at 
midday and at niidnighP~was nevertheless lost in the mechanized 
hordes which finally inundated Europe. Advocate of classic taste, of 
irony, of frugal defiance, aristocrat who had the courage to say that 
aristocracy consisted in practising virtue without asking for a reason 
and that a man who had to have reasons for being honest was not to 
be trusted, addict of integrity (‘integrity that had become an instinct, 
a passion’), stubborn supporter of the ‘supreme equity of the su- 
preme intelligence which is the mortal enemy of fanaticism’, he was 
set up, thirty-three years after his death, by his own countrymen as 
the master of lies and violence and his ideas and attributes, made 
admirable by his sacrifice, have been rendered detestable. In the 
history of intelligence, with the exception of Marx, Nietzsche’s 
adventure had no equivalent : we shall never finish making reparation 
for the injustice done to him. Of course history records other philo- 
sophies that have been misconstrued and betrayed. But up to the 
time of Nietzsche and national socialism, it was quite without parallel 
that a process of thought - brilliantly illuminated by the nobility and 
by the sufferings of an exceptional mind - should have been demon- 
strated to the eyes of the world by a parade of lies and by the hideous 
accumulation of corpses from concentration camps. The doctrine of 
the superman led to the methodical creation of sub-men - a fact that 
doubtless should be denounced but which also demands interpreta- 
tion. If the final result of the great movement of rebellion in the nine- 
teenth and twentieth centuries was to be this ruthless bondage, then 
surely rebellion should be rejected and Nietzsche’s desperate cry to 
his contemporaries taken up: ‘My conscience and yours are no longer 
the same conscience.’ 

We must first of all realize that we can never confuse Nietzsche 
with Rosenberg. We must be the advocates for the defence of Nietz- 
sche. He himself has said so, denouncing in advance his bastard 
progeny, ‘he who had liberated his mind still has to purify himself’. 
But the question is to find out if the liberation of the mind, as he 
conceived it, does not preclude purification. The idea that comes to a 
head with Nietzsche, and that supports him, has its laws and its logic 



which, perhaps, explain the bloody travesty of his philosophy. Is 
there nothing in his work which can be used in support of definitive 
murder ? Cannot the killers, provided that they deny the spirit for the 
letter (and even what still remains of the spirit in the letter), find 
their pretext in Nietzsche? The answer must be yes. From the 
moment that the methodical aspect of Nietzschean thought is neg- 
lected (and it is not certain that he himself always observed it) his 
rebellious logic recognizes no limits. 

We also remark that it is not in the Nietzschean refusal to worship 
idols that murder finds its justification, but in the passionate cohesion 
which crowns Nietzsche’s work. To say yes to everything supposes 
that one says yes to murder. Moreover, it expresses two ways of 
consenting to murder. If the slave says yes to everything, he consents 
to the existence of a master and to his own sufferings; Jesus teaches 
non-resistance. If the master says yes to everything, he consents to 
slavery and to the suffering of others; and the result is the tyrant and 
the glorification of murder. * Is it not laughable that we believe in a 
sacred, infrangible law, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not Idll, in an 
existence characterized by perpetual lying and perpetual murder?’ 
Act ually metaphysical rebellion, in its initial stages, was o nly a 
prot est against the lie and the crime of existence. The Mmschean 
affi rmative, forge tful of the original negative, disavows rebellion at 

I the same time that it disa^Wthe ethic wKcF refuses to accept the 
world a sTt is.^Nlctzscfic prayed a Roman Caesar with the soul of 
Christt To his mind, this was to say yes to both slave and master. But, 
in the last analysis, to say yes to both was to give one’s blessing to the 
stronger of the two, namely the master. Caesar must inevitably 
renounce the domination of the mind in order to rule in the realm of 
fact. ‘How can one make the best of crime ?’ asks Nietzsche, a good 
professor faithful to his system. Caesar must answer: by multiplying 
it. ‘When the ends are great,’ Nietzsche wrote to his own detriment, 
‘humanity employs other standards and no longer judges crime as 
such even if it resorts to the most frightful means.’ He died in 1900, 
at the beginning of the century in which that statement was to become 
fatal. It was in vain that he exclaimed in his hour of lucidity, ‘It is 



easy to talk about all sorts of immoral acts; but would one have the 
courage to carry them through? For example, I could not bear to 
break my word or to kill; I should languish, and eventually I should 
die as a result - that would be my fate/ From the moment that assent 
was given to the totality of human experience, the way was open to 
others who, far from languishing, would gather strength from lies 
and murder. Nietzsche’s responsibility lies in having legitimized, for 
worthy reasons of method - and even if only for an instant - the right 
to dishonour of which Dostoyevsky had already said that if one 
offered it to people one could always be sure of seeing them rushing 
at it. But his involuntary responsibility goes still further. 

Nietzsche is exactly what he recognized himself as being: the most 
acute manifestation of nihilism’s conscience. The decisive step that he 
compelled rebellion to take consists in making it jump from the 
negation of the ideal to the secularization of the ideal. Since the 
salvation of man is not achieved in God, it must be achieved on earth. 
Since the world has no direction, man, from the moment that he 
accepts this, must give it one which will lead eventually to a superior 
type of humanity. Nietzsche laid claim to the direction of the future 
of the human race. ‘The task of governing the world is going to fall 
to our lot.’ And elsewhere: ‘The time is approaching when we shall 
have to struggle for the domination of the world, and this struggle 
will be fought in the name of philosophical principles,’ In these words 
he predicted the twentieth century. But if he was able to predict it, it 
was because he was warned by the interior logic of nihilism and knew 
that one of its aims was ascendancy; and thus he prepared the way 
for this ascendancy. 

There is freedom for man without God, as Nietzsche imagined 
him, in other words for the solitary man. There is freedom at mid- 
day when the wheel of the world stops spinning and man accepts 
things as they are. But what is becomes what will be and the ceaseless 
change of thin gs must be accepted. The light finally grows dim, the 
axis of the day declines. Then history begins again and freedom 
must be sought in history; history must be accepted. Nietzschism - 
the theory of individual will to power - was condemned to support 



the universal will to power. Nietzschism was nothing without world 
domination. Nietzsche undoubtedly hated free-thinkers and humani- 
tarians. He took the words ‘freedom of thought’ in their most ex- 
treme sense: the divinity of the individual mind. But he could not 
stop the free-thinkers partaking of the same historical fact as himself 
- the death of God - nor could he prevent the consequences being the 
same. Nietzsche saw clearly that humanitarianism was only a form of 
Christianity deprived of superior justification which preserved final 
causes while rejecting the first cause. But he failed to perceive that 
the doctrines of social emancipation must, by an inevitable logic of 
nihilism, lead to what he himself had dreamed of superhumanity. 

Philosophy secularizes the ideal. But tyrants appear who soon 
secularize the philosophies which give them their rights. Nietzsche 
had already predicted this development in discussing Hegel whose 
originality, according to him, consisted in inventing a pantheism in 
which evil, error, and sufiering could no longer serve as arguments 
against the divinity. ‘But the State, and the powers that be, immedi- 
ately made use of this grandiose initiative.’ However, he himself had 
conceived of a system in which crime could no longer serve as an 
argument against anything and in which the only value resided in the 
divinity of man. This grandiose initiative also had to be put to use. 
National socialism in this respect was only a transitory heir, only the 
speculative and rabid outcome of nihilism. In all other respects those 
who, in correcting Nietzsche with the help of Marx, will choose to 
assent only to history and no longer to all of creation will be perfectly 
logical. The rebel whom Nietzsche set on his knees before the cosmos 
will, from now on, kneel before history. What is surprising about 
that ? Nietzsche, at least in his theory of superhumanity, and Marx, 
before him, with his classless society, both replace the Beyond by the 
Later On. In that way, Nietzsche betrayed the Greeks and the teach- 
ings of Jesus who, according to him, replaced the Beyond by the 
Immediate. Marx like Nietzsche thought in strategic terms and like 
Nietzsche hated formal virtue. Their two rebellions, both of which 
finish similarly in adhesion to a certain aspect of reality, end by 
merging into Marxism-Leninism and being incarnated m that caste, 



already mentioned by Nietzsche, which would ‘replace the priest, the 
teacher, the doctor’. The fundamental difference is that Nietzsche, 
in awaiting the superman, proposed to assent to what exists and 
Marx to what is to come. For Marx nature is to be subjugated in 
order to obey history, for Nietzsche nature is to be obeyed in order 
to subjugate history. It is the difference between the Christian and 
the Greek. Nietzsche at least foresaw what was going to happen: 
‘Modem socialism tends to create a form of secular Jesuitism, to 
make instruments of all men,’ and again: ‘What we desire is well- 
being ... As a result we march towards a spiritual slavery such as has 
never been seen . . . Intellectual Caesarism hovers over every activity 
of the business man and of the philosophers.’ Placed in the crucible of 
Nietzschean philosophy, rebellion, in the folly of freedom, ends in 
biological or historical Caesarism. The absolute negative had driven 
Stirner to defy crime simultaneously with the individual. But the 
absolute affirmative leads to universalizing murder and mankind 
simultaneously. Marxism-Leninism has really accepted the burden 
of Nietzsche’s free-will by means of ignoring several Nietzschean 
virtues. The great rebel thus creates with his own hands, and for his 
own imprisonment, the implacable reign of necessity. Once he had 
escaped from God’s prison, his first care was to construct the prison 
of history and of reason, thus putting the finishing touch to the 
camouflage and consecration of that nihilism whose conquest he 

Nihilism and History 

One hundred and fifty years of metaphysical revolt and of nihilism 
have witnessed the persistent reappearance, under different guises, of 
the same ravaged countenance: the face of human protest. All of 
them, decrying the human condition and its creator, have affirmed 
the solitude of man and the non-existence of any kind of morality. 
But at the same time they have all tried to construct a purely ter- 
restrial kingdom where their chosen principles will hold sway. As 
rivals of the Creator, they have inescapably been led to the point of 
reconstructing creation according to their own concepts. Those who 
rejected, for the world they had just created, all other principles but 
desire and power, have been driven to suicide or madness and haye 
predicted the apocalypse. As for the rest, who wanted to create their 
own principles, they have chosen pomp and ceremony, the world of 
appearances, murder and destruction. But Sade and the romantics, 
Karamazov or Nietzsche only entered the world of death because 
they wanted to discover the true life. So that by a process of inversion, 
it is the desperate appeal for order that rings through this insane 
universe. Their conclusions have only proved disastrous or destruc- 
tive to freedom from the moment that they laid aside the burden of 
rebellion, fled the tension that it implies, and chose the comfort of 
tyranny or of servitude. 

Human insurrection, in its exalted and tragic forms, is only, and 
can only be, a prolonged protest against death, a violent accusation 
against the universal death penalty. In every case that we have come 
across, the protest is always directed at everything in creation which 
is dissonant, opaque, or promises the solution of continuity. Essenti- 
ally, then, we are dealing with a perpetual demand for unity. The 
rejection of death, the desire for immortality and for clarity, are the 
main springs of all these extravagances, whether sublime or puerile. 
Is it only a cowardly and personal refusal to die ? No, since many of 



these rebels have paid the ultimate price in order to live up to their 
own demands. The rebel does not ask for life, but for reasons for 
living. He rejects the consequences implied by death. If nothing lasts, 
then nothing is justified: anything that dies has no meaning. To fight 
against death amounts to claiming that life has a meaning, to fighting 
for order and for unity. 

The protest against evil which is at the very core of metaphysical 
revolt is significant in this regard. It is not the suffering of a child 
which is repugnant in itself, but the fact that the suffering is not 
justified. After all, pain, exile, confinement are sometimes accepted 
when dictated by good sense or by the doctor. In the eyes of the 
rebel, what is missing from the misery of the world, as well as from its 
moments of happiness, is some prmciple by which they can be 
ex^ldned. The insurrection against evil is, above all, a demand for 
unity. The rebel obstinately confronts a world condemned to death 
and the fatal obscurity of the human condition with his demand for 
life and absolute clarity. He is seeking, without knowing it, a moral 
philosophy or a religion. Rebellion is a form of asceticism, though it 
is blind. Therefore, if the rebel blasphemes it is in the hope of finding 
a new god. He staggers under the shock of the first and most pro- 
found of all religious experiences, but it is a disenchanted religious 
experience. It is not rebellion itself which is noble, but its aims, even 
though its achievements are at times ignoble. At least we must know 
how to recognize the ignoble ends it achieves. Each time that it defies 
the total rejection, the absolute negation of what exists, it destroys. 
Each time that it blindly accepts what exists and gives voice to 
absolute assent, it destroys again. Hatred of the creator can turn to 
hatred of creation or to exclusive and defiant love of what exists. But 
in both cases it ends in murder and loses the right to be called 
rebellion. One can be a nihilist in two ways, in both cases by having an 
intemperate recourse to absolutes. Apparently there are rebels who 
want to die and those who want to cause death. But they are identical, 
consumed with desire for the true life, frustrated by their desire, and 
therefore preferring generalized injustice to mutilated justice. At this 
point of indignation, reason becomes madness. If it is true that the 



instinctive rebellion of the human heart advances gradually through 
the centuries towards its most complete realization, it has also grown, 
as we have seen, in blind audacity to the inordinate extent of deciding 
to answer universal murder by metaphysical assassination. 

The even ify which we have already recognized as marking the most 
important moment of metaphysical revolt, is in any case fulfilled only 
in absolute destruction. It is not the nobility of rebellion which 
illuminates the world today, but nihilism. And it is the consequences 
of nihilism which we must retrace, without losing sight of the truth 
innate in its origins. Even if God existed, Ivan would never surrender 
to Him in the face of the injustice done to man. But a longer con- 
templation of this injustice, a more bitter approach, transformed the 
‘even if you exist’ into ‘you do not deserve to exist’, therefore ‘you 
do not exist’. T he victims have found in their own innocence the 
justification for the final crime. Convinced of their condemnation and 
without hope of immortality they decided to murder God. If it is 
false to say that, from that day, began the tragedy of contemporary 
man, it is not true, either, to say that it ended there. On the contrary, 
this attempt indicates the highest point in a drama that began with 
the end of the ancient world and of which the last words have not yet 
been spoken. From this moment, man decides to exclude himself from 
grace and to live by his own means. Progress, from the time of Sade 
up to the present, has consisted of gradually enlarging the enclosure 
where, according to his own rules, man without God brutally wields 
power. In defiance of the divinity, the frontiers of this stronghold 
have been extended, to the point of making the entire universe into a 
fortress erected against the fallen and exiled deity. Man, at the culmi- 
nation of his rebellion, incarcerated himself; from Sade’s lurid castle 
to the concentration camps, man’s greatest liberty consisted only of 
building the prison of his crimes. But the state of siege gradually 
spreads, the claim for freedom must embrace all mankind. Then the 
only kingdom which is opposed to the kingdom of grace must be 
founded, namely the kingdom of justice, and the human community 
must be reunited on the debris of the fallen City of God. To kill 
God and to build a Church is the constant and contradictory pur- 



pose of rebellion. Absolute liberty finally becomes a prison of absolute 
duties, a collective asceticism, a story to be brought to an end. The 
nineteenth century, which is the century of rebellion, thus merges 
into the twentieth, the century of justice and ethics, the century of 
violent self-recrimination. Chamfort, the moralist of rebellion, has 
already provided the formula: ‘One must be just before being gener- 
ous, as one must have bread before having cake.’ Thus, the ethic of 
luxury will be renounced in favour of the bitter morahty of the 
empire builder. 

We must now embark on the subject of this convulsive effort to 
control the world and to introduce a universal rule. We have arrived 
at the moment when rebellion, rejec ting every asp ect of^ervitude, 
^ /Attempts to aimex all creation. At each of its setbacks, we have already 
seen formulated the political solution, the solution of conquest. 
Henceforth, with the introduction of moral nihilism, it will retain, of 
all its other acquisitions, only the will to power. In principle, the 
rebel only wanted to conquer his own self and to maintain it in the 
face of God. But he forgets his beginnings and, by the law of spiritual 
imperialism, he sets out in search of world conquest by way of an 
infinitely multiplied series of murders. He drove God from His 
heaven, but with the spirit of metaphysical rebellion openly joining 
forces with revolutionary movements, the irrational claim for free- 
dom is paradoxically going to adopt reason as a weapon, as the only 
means of conquest which appears to it entirely human. With the 
death of God, mankind remains: and by this we mean the history 
which we must understand and shape. Nihihsm, which smothers the 
creative force in the very core of rebellion, only adds that one can 
shape it with all the means at one’s disposal. Man, on an earth which 
he knows is henceforth solitary, is going to add, to irrational crimes, 
the crimes of reason that are bent on the domination of man. To the 
T rebel, therefore we exist’, he adds, with prodigious plans in mind 
which even include the death of rebellion: ‘And we are alone.’ 



Freedom, ‘that terrible word inscribed on the chariot of the storm’, 
is the motivating principle of all revolutions. Without it, justice seems 
inconceivable to the rebel’s mind. There comes a time, however, when 
justice demands the suspension of freedom. Then terror, on a grand 
or small scale, makes its appearance to consummate the revolution. 
Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an 
appeal to the essence of being. But, one day, nostalgia takes up arms 
and assumes the responsibility of total guilt ; in other words, adopts 
murder and violence. The servile rebellions, the regicide revolutions, 
and the twentieth-century revolutions had thus, consciously, accepted 
a burden of guilt which increased in proportion to the degree of 
liberation they proposed to introduce. This contradiction, which has 
become only too obvious, prevents our contemporary revolutionaries 
from displaying that aspect of happiness and optimism which shone 
forth from the faces and the speeches of the members of the Consti- 
tuent Assembly in 1789. Is thi s cont radiction inevitable? Does it 
characterize or betray the value of rebellion? These questions are 
bound to arise about revolution as they are bound to arise about 
metaphysical rebellion. Actually, revolution is only the logical conse- 
quence of metaphysical rebellion, and we shall discover, in our 
analysis of the revolutionary movement, the same desperate and 
bloody effort to affirm the dignity of man in defiance of the things 
that deny its existence. The revolutionary spirit thus undertakes the 
defence of that part of man which refuses to submit. In other words, 
it tries to assure him his crov^m in the realm of time, and, rejecting 
God, it chooses history with an apparently inevitable logic. 

In theory, the word revolution retains the meaning that it has in 
astronomy. It is a movement which describes a complete circle, 



which leads from one form of government to another after a total 
transition. A change of regulations concerning property without a 
corresponding change of government is not a revolution, but a re- 
form. There is no kind of economic revolution, whether its methods 
are violent or pacific, which is not, at the same time, manifestly 
political. Revolution can already be distinguished, in this way, from 
rebellion. The warning given to Louis XVI: ‘no, sire, this is not a 
rebellion, it is a revolution’ accents the essential difference. It means 
precisely that ‘it is the absolute certainty of a new form of govern- 
ment’. Rebellion is, by nature, limited in scope. It is no more than 
incoherent pronouncement. Revolution, on the contrary, originates 
in the realm of ideas. Specifically, it is the injection of ideas into 
historic experience while rebellion is only the movement which leads 
from individual experience into the realm of ideas. While even the 
collective history of a movement of rebellion is always that of a fruit- 
less struggle with facts, of an obscure protest which involves neither 
methods nor reasons, a revolution is an attempt to shape actions to 
ideas, to fit the world into a theoretic frame. That is why rebellion 
kills men while revolution destroys both men and principles. But, for 
the same reasons, it can be said that there has not yet been a revolu- 
tion in the course of history. There could only be one and that would 
be the definitive revolution. The movement which seems to complete 
the circle already begins to describe another, at the precise moment 
when the new government is formed. The anarchists, with Varlet as 
their leader, were made well aware of the fact that government and 
revolution are incompatible in the direct sense. ‘ It implies a contra- 
diction’, says Proudjion, ‘that a government could ever be called 
revolutionary, for the very simple reason that it is the government.’ 
Now that the experiment has been made, let us qualify that statement 
by adding that a government can only be revolutionary in opposition 
to other governments. Revolutionary governments are, most of the 
time, obliged to be war governments. The more extensive the revolu- 
tion the more considerable the chances of the war that it implies. The 
society bom of the revolution of 1789 wanted to fight for Europe. 
The society bom of the 1917 revolution is fighting for universal 



dominion. Total revolution ends by demanding - we shall see why - 
the control of the world. 

While waiting for this to happen, if happen it must, the history of 
man, in one sense, is the sum total of his successive rebellions. In 
other words, the movement of transition which can be clearly ex- 
pressed in terms of space is only an approximation in terms of time. 
What was devoutly called, in the nineteenth century, the progressive 
emancipation of the human race appears, from the outside, like an 
uninterrupted series of rebellions which overreach themselves and 
try to find their formulation in ideas, but which have not yet reached 
the point of definitive revolution where everything on heaven and 
earth would be stabilized. A superficial examination seems to infer, 
rather than any real emancipation, an affirmation of mankind by man, 
an affirmation increasingly broad in scope but which is always un- 
realized. In fact, if there had ever been one real revolution, there 
would be no more history. Unity would have been achieved and 
death would have been satiated. That is why all revolutionaries finally 
aspire to world unity and act as though they believed that history 
were dead. The originality of twentieth-century revolution lies in the 
fact that, for the first time, it openly claims to realize the ancient 
dream of unity of the human race and, at the same time, the defini- 
tive consummation of history. Just as rebel movements led to the 
point of ‘All or Nothing’ and just as metaphysical rebellion demanded 
the unity of the world, the twentieth-century revolutionary move- 
ment, when it arrived at the most obvious conclusions of its logic, 
insisted with threats of force on arrogating to itself the whole of 
history. Rebellion is therefore compelled, on pain of appearing futile 
or being out of date, to become revolutionary. It no longer suffices 
for the rebel to declare himself God or to look to his own salvation by 
adopting a certain attitude of mind. The species must be deified, as 
Nietzsche attempted to do, and his ideal of the superman must be 
adopted so as to assure salvation for all - as Ivan Karamazov wanted. 
For the first time, the Possessed appear on the scene and proceed to 
give the answer to one of the secrets of the times: the identity of 
reason and of the will to power. Now that God is dead, the world 



must be changed and organized by the forces at man’s disposal. The 
force of imprecation alone is not enough and weapons are needed for 
the conquest of totality. Revolution, even, and above all, revolution 
which claims to be materialist, is only a limitless metaphysical 
crusade. But can totality claim to be unity? That is the question 
which this book must answer. So far we can only say that the purpose 
of this analysis is not to give, for the hundredth time, a description of 
the revolutionary phenomenon, nor once more to examine the historic 
or economic causes of great revolutions. Its purpose is to discover in 
certain revolutionary data the logical sequence, the explanations, and 
the invariable themes of metaphysical rebellion. 

The majority of revolutions are shaped by, and derive their 
originality from, murder. All, or almost all, have been homicidal. 
But some, in addition, have practised regicide and deicide. Just as the 
history of metaphysical rebellion began with Sade, so our real inquiry 
only begins with his contemporaries, the regicides, who attack the 
incarnation of divinity without yet daring to kill the principle of 

When a slave rebels against his master the situation presented is of 
one man pitted against another, under a cruel sky, far from the 
exalted realms of principles. The final result is merely the murder of 
a man. The servile rebellions, peasant risings, beggar tumults, rustic 
outbreaks, all advance the concept of a principle of equality, life for 
life, which despite every kind of mystification and audacity will 
always be found in the purest manifestations of the revolutionary 
spirit: Russian terrorism in 1905, for example. 

Spartacus’s rebellion which took place as the ancient world was 
coming to an end, a few decades before the Christian era, is an 
excellent illustration of this point. First we note that this is a rebellion 
of gladiators, that is to say of slaves consecrated to single combat and 
condemned, for the delectation of their masters, to kill or be killed. 
Beginning with seventy men, this rebellion ended with an army of 
seventy thousand insurgents which crushed the best Roman legions 
and advanced through Italy to march on the Eternal City itself. 



However, as Andr6 Prudhommeaux remarks, this rebellion intro- 
duced no new principle to Roman life. The proclamation issued by 
Spartacus goes no farther than to offer ‘equal rights’ to the slaves. 
The transition from fact to right which we analysed in the first stage 
of rebellion is, in fact, the only logical acquisition which one can 
find on this level of rebellion. The insurgent rejects slavery and 
affirms his equality with his master. He wants to be master in his 

Spartacus’s rebellion is a constant illustration of this principle of 
positive claims. The slave army liberates the slaves and immediately 
hands over their former masters to them in bondage. According to 
one tradition, of doubtful veracity it is true, gladiatorial combats were 
even organized between several hundred Roman citizens while the 
slaves sat in the grandstands delirious with joy and excitement. But 
to kill men only leads to killing more men. To allow a principle to 
triumph, another principle must be overthrown. The city of light of 
which Spartacus dreamed could only have been built on the ruins of 
eternal Rome, of its institutions, and of its gods. Spartacus’s army 
marches to lay siege to a Rome paralysed with fear at the prospect of 
having to pay for its crimes. However, at the decisive moment, within 
sight of the sacred walls, the army halts and wavers, as if it were 
retreating before the principles, the institutions, the city of the gods. 
When these had been destroyed, what could he put in their place, 
except the brutal desire for justice, the wounded and exacerbated 
love which, until this moment, had kept these wretches on their 
feet.* In any case, the army retreated without having fought, and 
then made the curious move of deciding to return to the place where 
the slave rebellion originated, to retrace the long road of its viaories 
and to return to Sicily. It was as though these outcasts, forever alone 
and helpless before the great tasks which awaited them and too 
daunted to assail the heavens, returned to what was purest and most 

* Spartacus’s rebellion recapitulates the programme of the servile rebel- 
lions which preceded it. But this programme is limited to the distribution of 
land and the abolition of slavery. It is not directly concerned with the gods 
of the city. 



heartening in their history, to the land of their first awakening where 
it was easy and right to die. 

Then began their defeat and martyrdom. Before the last battle, 
Spartacus crucified a Roman citizen to show his men the fate that was 
in store for them. During the battie, Spartacus himself tried with 
frenzied determination, the symbolism of which is obvious, to reach 
Crassus who was commanding the Roman legions. He wanted to 
perish but in single combat with the hian who symbolized, at that 
moment, every Roman master; it was his dearest wish to die, but in 
absolute equality. He did not reach Crassus : principles wage war at a 
distance and the Roman general kept himself apart. Spartacus died 
as he wished, but at the hands of mercenaries, slaves like himself, 
who killed their own freedom with his. In revenge for the one 
crucified citizen, Crassus crucified thousands of slaves. The six thou- 
sand crosses which, after such a just rebellion, staked out the road 
from Capua to Rorrle, demonstrated to the servile crowd that there 
is no equality in the world of power and that the masters calculate, at 
a usurious rate, the price of their own blood. 

The Cross is also Christ’s punishment. One can imagine that He 
only chose a slave’s punishment, a few years later, so as to reduce the 
enormous distance which henceforth would separate humiliated 
humanity from the implacable face of the Master. He intercedes. He 
submits to the most extreme injustice so that rebellion shall not 
divide the world in two, so that suffering will also light the way to 
heaven and preserve it from the curses of mankind. What is astonish- 
ing in the fact that the revolutionary spirit, when it wanted to aflirm 
the separation of heaven and earth, should begin by disembodying 
the divinity by killing His representatives on earth? In certain 
aspects, the period of rebellions comes to an end in 1793 and 
revolutionary times begin - on a scaffold.* 

* In that this book is not concerned with the spirit of rebellion inside 
Christianity, the Reformation has no place here, nor the numerous rebellions 
against ecclesiastical authority which preceded it. But we can say, at least, 
that the Reformation prepares the way for Jacobinism and in one sense 
initiates the reforms that 1789 carries out. 

The Regicides 

Kings were put to death long before 21 January 1793, and before 
the regicides of the nineteenth century. But regicides of earlier times 
and their followers were interested in attacking the person, not the 
principle, of the king. They wanted another king and that was all. It 
never occurred to them that the throne could remain empty for ever. 
Seventeen eighty-nine is the starting-point of modem times, because 
the men o^ that period wished, among other things, to overthrow the 
principle of divine right and to introduce to the historical scene the 
forces of negation and rebellion which had become the essence of 
intellectual discussion in the previous centuries. Thus they added to 
traditional tyrannicide the concept of calculated deicide. The so- 
called free-thinkers, the philosophers and jurists, served as levers for 
this revolutionary concept.^ In order for such an undertaking to enter 
into the realms of possibility and to be considered justified, it was 
first necessary for the Church, whose infinite responsibility it is, to 
place itself on the side of the masters by compromising with the 
executioner - a step which developed into the Inquisition and which 
was perpetuated by complicity with the temporal powers. Michelet is 
quite correct in only wanting to recognize two outstanding characters 
in the revolutionary saga: Christianity and the French Revolution. 
In fact, for him, 1789 is explained by the struggle between divine 
grace and justice. Although Michelet shared the taste for all-embrac- 
ing abstractions with his intemperate period, he saw that this taste 
was one of the profound causes of the revolutionary crisis. 

Even if the monarchy of the ancien rigime was not always arbitrary 
in its manner of governing it was undoubtedly arbitrary in principle. 
It was founded on divine right, which means that its legitimacy could 

^ The kings themselves collaborated in this by allowing political power 
gradually to encroach on religious power, thus threatening the very principle 
of their legitimacy. 



never be questioned. However, its legitimaqr often was questioned, 
in particular by various Parliaments. But those who exercised it 
considered and presented it as an axiom. Louis XIV, as is well 
known, rigidly adhered to the principle of divine right.^ Bossuet gave 
him considerable help in this direction by saying to the kings of 
France: ‘You are gods.’ The king, in one of his aspects, is the divine 
emissary in charge of human affairs and therefore of the administra- 
tion of justice. Like God himself, he is the last recourse of the victims 
of misery and injustice. In principle, the people can appeal to the king 
for help against their oppressors. ‘ If the king only knew, if the Czar 
only knew . . .* was the frequently expressed sentin^nt of the 
French and Russian people during periods of great distress. It is true 
in France, at least, that, when it did know, the monarchy often tried 
to defend the lower classes against the oppressions of the aristocracy 
and the bourgeoisie. But was this, essentially, justice? From the 
absolute point of view, which was the point of view of the writers of 
the period, it was not. Even though it is possible to appeal to the 
king, it is impossible to appeal against him in so far as he is the 
embodiment of a principle. He dispenses his protection and his 
assistance if and when he wants to. One of the attributes of grace is 
that it is discretionary. Monarchy in its theocratic form is a type of 
government which wants to put grace before justice. Rousseau in his 
Savoyard Curate’s declaration, on the other hand, is only original in 
so far as he submits God to justice and in this way inaugurates, with 
the rather naive solemnity of the period, contemporary history. 

From the moment that the free-thinkers began to question the 
existence of God, the problem of justice became of primary impor- 
tance. The justice of the period was, quite simply, confused with 
equality. The throne of God totters and justice, to confirm its support 
of equahty, must give it the final push by making a direct attack on 
His representative on earth. Divine right to all intents and purposes 
was already destroyed by being opposed and forced to compromise 
with natural right for three years, from 1789 to 1792. In the last 

* Charles I dung so tenadously to the prindple of divine right that he 
considered it unnecessary to be just and loyal to those who denied it. 



resort, grace is incapable of compromise. It can give in on certain 
points, but never on the final point. But that is not going far enough. 
According to Michelet, Louis XVI still wanted to be king in prison. 
In a France entirely governed by new principles, the principle that had 
been defeated still survived behind prison walls through the mere 
power of faith and through the existence of one human being. Justice 
has this in common with grace and this alone, that it wants to be 
total and to rule absolutely. From the moment that they conflict, they 
fight to the death. ‘We do not want to condenm the king,’ said 
Danton, ‘who has not even got the good manners of a jurist, we want 
to kill him.’ In fact, if God is denied, the king must die. Saint- Just, 
it seems, was responsible for Louis XVI’s death; but when he ex- 
claims: ‘To determine the principle in virtue of which the accused is 
perhaps to die, is to determine the principle by which the society 
which judges him lives,’ he demonstrates that it is the philosophers 
who are going to kill the king: the king must die in the name of the 
social contract.* But this demands an explanation. 


The Social Contract is, primarily, an inquiry into the legitimacy of 
power. But it is a book about rights not about facts and at no time 
is it a collection of sociological observations. It is concerned with 
principles and for this very reason is bound to be controversial. It 
presumes that traditional legitimacy, which is supposedly of divine 
origin, is not acquired. Thus it proclaims another sort of legitimacy 
and other principles. The Social Contract is also a catechism of which 
it has both the tone and the dogmatic language. Just as 1789 com- 
pletes the conquests of the English and American revolutions, so 

* Rousseau would not, of course, have wanted this. It must be remembered 
before proceeding with this analysis and in order to set its limits, that 
Rousseau firmly declared: ‘Nothing here below is worth buying at the price 
of human blood.* 



Rousseau pushes to its limits the theory of the social contract to be 
found in Hobbes. The Social Contract amplifies and dogmatically 
explains the new religion whose god is reason, confused with Nature, 
and whose representative on earth, in place of the king, is the people 
considered as an expression of the general will. 

The attack against the traditional order is so evident that, from the 
very first chapter, Rousseau is determined to demonstrate the pre- 
cedence of the citizens’ pact, which accorded the people their place, 
to the pact between the people and the king, which established 
royalty. Until Rousseau’s time, God created kings who, in their turn, 
created peoples. After The Social Contract^ peoples create themselves, 
before creating kings. As for God, there is nothing more to be said 
for the time being. Here we have, in the political field, the equivalent 
of Newton’s revolution. Power, therefore, is no longer arbitrary, but 
derives its existence from general consent. In other words, power is 
no longer what is but what should be. Fortunately, according to 
Rousseau, what is cannot be separated from what should be. The 
people are sovereign ‘only because they are always everything that 
they should be’. Confronted with this statement of principle, it is 
perfectly justifiable to say that reason, which was always obstinately 
invoked at that period, is not particularly well treated in the context. 
It is evident that, with The Social Contract, we are assisting at the 
birth of a new mystique - the will of the people being substituted for 
God Himself. ‘Each of us’, says Rousseau, ‘places his person and his 
entire capabilities under the supreme guidance of the will of the 
people and we receive each individual member into our bodies as an 
indivisible part of the whole.’ 

This political entity, proclaimed sovereign, is also defined as a 
divine entity. Moreover, it has all the attributes of a divine entity. It 
is, in fact, infallible in that, in its role of sovereign, it cannot even 
wish to commit abuses. ‘Under the law of reason, nothing is done 
without cause.’ It is totally free, if it is true that absolute freedom is 
freedom in regard to oneself. Thus Rousseau declares that it is against 
the nature of the body politic for the sovereign power to impose a law 
upon itself that cannot be enforced. It is also inalienable, indivisible, 



and, finally, it even aims at solving the great theological problem, 
the contradiction between absolute power and divine innocence. The 
will of the people is, in fact, coercive; its power has no limits. But the 
punishment it inflicts on those who refuse to obey it is nothing more 
than a means of ‘compelling them to be free*. The deification is com- 
pleted when Rousseau, separating the sovereign from his very origins, 
reaches the point of distinguishing between the general will and the 
will of all. This can be logically deduced from Rousseau’s premises. 
If man is naturally good, if Nature as expressed in him is identified 
with reason,^ he will express the pre-eminence of reason, on the one 
condition that he expresses himself freely and naturally. He can no 
longer, therefore, go back on his decision, which henceforth over- 
shadows him. The will of the people is, primarily, the expression of 
universal reason, which is categorical. The new God is bom. 

That is why the words that are to be found most often in The Social 
Contract are the words ‘absolute’, ‘sacred’, ‘inviolable’. The body 
politic thus defined, whose laws are sacred commandments, is only a 
by-product of the mystic body of temporal Christianity. The Social 
Contract^ moreover, terminates with a description of a civil religion 
and makes of Rousseau a harbinger of contemporary forms of society 
which exclude not only opposition but even neutrality. Rousseau is, 
in fact, the first man in modem times to institute the profession of 
civil faith. He is also the first to justify the death penalty in a civil 
society and the absolute submission of the subject to the authority of 
the sovereign. ‘ It is in order not to become victim of an assassin that 
we consent to die if we become assassins.’ A strange justification, but 
one which firmly establishes the fact that you must know how to die 
if the sovereign commands and must, if necessary, concede that he is 
right and you are wrong. This mystic idea explains Saint- Just’s 
silence from the time of his arrest until he goes to the scaffold. 
Suitably developed, it equally well explains the enthusiasm of the 
defendants in the Moscow trials. 

We are witnessing the dawn of a new religion with its martyrs, its 
ascetics, and its saints. To be able to estimate the influence achieved 
* Every ideology is contrary to human psychology. 



by this gospel, one must have some idea of the inspired tones of the 
proclamations of 1789. A revolutionary, confronted with the skele- 
tons discovered in the Bastille, exclaims: ‘The day of revelation is 

upon us. The very bones have risen at the sound of the voice of 

French freedom; they bear witness against the centuries of oppres- 
sion and death, and prophesy the regeneration of human nature and 
of the life of nations.’ Then he predicts: ‘We have reached the heart 
of time. The tyrants are ready to fall.’ It is the moment of astonished 
and generous faith when a remarkably enlightened mob overthrows 
the scaffold and the wheel at Versailles.^ Scaffolds seemed to be the 
very altars of religion and injustice. The new faith could not tolerate 
them. But a moment comes when faith, if it becomes dogmatic, 
erects its own altars and demands unconditional adoration. Then 
scaffolds reappear and despite the altars, the oaths, the feasts, and 
the freedom of reason, the masses of the new faith must now be 
celebrated with blood. In any case, in order that 1789 shall mark 
the beginning of the reign of ‘holy humanity’! and of ‘Our Lord the 
human race*,! fallen sovereign must first of all disappear. The 
murder of the king-priest will sanction the new age - which endures 
to this day. 


Saint- Just introduced Rousseau’s ideas into the pages of history. At 
the king’s trial, the essential part of his arguments consisted of saying 
that the king is not inviolable and should be judged by the assembly 
and not by a special tribunal. His method of proof he owed to 
Rousseau. A tribunal cannot be the judge between the king and the 
sovereign people. The general will cannot be tried by ordinary judges. 
It is above everything. The inviolability and the transcendence of the 
general will are thus proclaimed. We know that the predominant 
* The same idyll takes place in Russia, in 1905, where the soviet of St 
Petersburg parades through the streets carrying placards demanding the 
abolition of the death penalty, and again in 1917. 

! Vergniaud. ! Anarchasis Cloots. 



theme of the trial was the inviolability of the royal person. The strug- 
gle between grace and justice finds its most provocative illustration in 
1793 when two different conceptions of transcendence meet in 
mortal combat. Moreover, Saint-Just is perfectly aware of how very 
much is at stake: ‘The spirit in which the king is judged will be the 
same as the spirit in which the Republic is established.’ 

Saint- Just’s famous speech has, therefore, all the earmarks of a 
theological treatise. ‘Louis, the stranger in our midst,’ is the thesis 
of this youthful prosecutor. If a contract, either civil or natural, could 
still bind the king and his people, there would be a mutual obligation; 
the will of the people could not set itself up as absolute judge to pro- 
nounce absolute judgement. Therefore it is necessary to prove that no 
agreement binds the people and the king. In order to prove that the 
people are themselves the embodiment of eternal truth it is necessary 
to demonstrate that royalty is the embodiment of eternal crime, 
Saint-Just, therefore, postulates that every king is a rebel or a 
usurper. He is a rebel against the people whose absolute sovereignty 
he usurps. Monarchy is not a king, ‘it is crime’. Not a crime, but 
crime itself, says Saint- Just; in other words, absolute desecration. 
That is the precise, and at the same time, ultimate meaning of Saint- 
Just’s remark the import of which has been stretched too far*: ‘No 
one can rule innocently.’ Every king is guilty, because any man who 
wants to be king is automatically on the side of death. Saint- Just says 
exactly the same thing when he proceeds to demonstrate that the 
sovereignty of the people is a ‘sacred matter’. Citizens are inviolable 
and sacred and can only be constrained by the law which is an 
expression of their common will. Louis himself does not benefit by 
this particular inviolability or by the assistance of the law, for he is 
placed outside the contract. He is not part of the general will ; on the 
contrary, by his very existence he is a blasphemer against this all- 
powerful will. He is not a ‘citizen’ which is the only way of partici- 
pating in the new divine dispensation. ‘ What is a king in comparison 

* Or at least the significance of which has been anticipated. When Saint- 
Just made this remark he did not know that he was already speaking for 



to a Frenchman ?’ Therefore, he should be judged and no more than 

But who will interpret the will of the people and pronounce 
judgement ? The Assembly, wliich by its origin has retained the right 
to administer this will, and which participates as an inspired council 
in the new divinity. Should the people be asked to ratify the judge- 
ment ? We know that the efforts of the monarchists in the Assembly 
were finally concentrated on tliis point. In this way the life of the 
king could be rescued from the logic of the bourgeois- jurists and at 
least entrusted to the spontaneous emotions and compassion of the 
people. But here again Saint- Just pushes his logic to its extremities 
and makes use of the conflict, invented by Rousseau, between the 
general will and the will of all. Even though the will of all would be 
willing to pardon, the general will cannot do so. Even the people can- 
not efface the crime of tyranny. Cannot the victims, according to law, 
withdraw their complaint? We are not dealing with law, we are 
dealing with theology. The crime of the king is, at the same lime, a 
sin against the ultimate nature of things. A crime is committed, then 
it is pardoned, punished, or forgotten. But the crime of royalty is 
permanent, it is inextricably bound to the person of the king, to his 
very existence. Christ Himself, though He can forgive sinners, 
cannot absolve false gods. They must disappear or conquer. If the 
people forgive today, they will find the crime intact tomorrow, even 
though the criminal sleeps peacefully in prison. Therefore there is 
only one issue: ‘To avenge the murder of the people by the death of 
the king’. 

The only purpose of Saint- Just’s speech is, once and for all, to 
block every egress for the king, except the one leading to the scaffold. 
If, in fact, the premises of The Social Contract arc accepted, this is 
inevitable. At last, after Saint- Just, ‘kings will flee to the desert and 
Nature will resume her rights’. It was quite pointless of the Con- 
vention to vote a reservation and say that it did not intend to create a 
precedent if it passed judgement on Louis XVI and if it pronounced 
a security measure. In doing so it fled before its own principles and 
tried to camouflage, with shocking hypocrisy, its real purpose, which 



was to found a new form of absolutism. Jacques Roux, at least, was 
speaking the truth of the times when he called the king Louis the 
Last, thus indicating that the real revolution, which had already been 
accomplished on the economic level, was then taking place on the 
philosophic plane and that it implied a twilight of the gods. Theo- 
cracy was attacked in principle in 1789 and killed in person in 1793. 
Brissot was right in saying : ‘The most solid monument to our revolu- 
tion is philosophy.’ 

On 21 January, with the murder of the king-priest, was consum- 
mated what has significantly been called the passion of Louis XVI. 
Undoubtedly, it is a crying scandal that the public assassination of a 
weak but good-hearted man has been presented as a great moment in 
French history. That scaffold marked no climax: far from it. But the 
fact remains that, by its results and consequences, the condemnation 
of the king is at the crux of our contemporary history. It symbolizes 
the secularization of our history and the dematerialization of the 
Christian God. Up to now God played a part in history through the 
medium of the kings. But His representative in history has been 
killed, for there is no longer a king. Therefore there is nothing but a 
semblance of God, relegated to the heaven of principles.'^ 

The revolutionaries may well refer to the Gospel, but in fact, they 
dealt a terrible blow to Christianity from which it has not yet 
recovered. It really seems as if the execution of the king, followed, as 
we know, by hysterical scenes of suicide and madness, took place 
entirely in the conscience of the victim. Louis XVI seems, sometimes, 
to have doubted his divine right, although he systematically rejected 
any projected legislation which threatened this concept. But from the 
moment that he suspeaed or knew his fate, he seemed to identify 
himself, as his language betrayed, with his divine mission, so that 
there would be no possible doubt that the attempt on his person was 
aimed at the King-Christ, the incarnation of the divinity, and not at 
the craven flesh of a mere man. His bedside book, in the Temple, was 
the Imitation, The calmness and perfection that this man of rather 
average sensibility displayed during his last moments, his indifference 
* This will later become the god of Kant, Jacobi, and Fichte. 



to everything of this world and, l&nally, his brief display of weakness 
on the solitary scaffold so far removed from the people whose ears 
he had wanted to reach, while the terrible rolling of the drum 
drowned his voice, give us the right to imagine that it was not Capet 
who died, but Louis appointed by divine right, and that with him, in 
a certain manner, died temporal Christianity. To emphasize this 
sacred bond, his confessor sustained him, in his moment of weakness, 
by reminding him of his ‘resemblance’ to the God of Sorrows. And 
Louis XVI recovers himself and speaks in the language of this God: 
‘I shall drink’, he says, ‘the cup to the last dregs.’ Then he commits 
himself, trembling, into the hands of the executioner. 


A religion which executes its obsolete sovereign must now establish 
the power of its new sovereign; it closes the churches and this leads 
to an endeavour to build a temple. The blood of the gods, wliich for 
a second bespatters the confessor of Louis XVI, announces a new 
baptism. Joseph de Maistre qualified the Revolution as satanic. We 
can see why and in what sense. Michelet, however, was closer to the 
truth when he called it a purgatory. An era blindly embarks on an 
attempt to discover a new illumination, a new happiness, and the face 
of the real God. But what will this new god be ? Let us ask Saint-Just 
once more. 

Seventeen eighty-nine does not yet affirm the divinity of man, but 
the divinity of the people, to the degree in which the will of the 
people coincides with the will of Nature and of reason. If the general 
will is freely expressed, it can only be the universal expression of 
reason. If the people are free, they are infallible. Once the king is 
dead, and the chains of the old despotism thrown off, the people are 
going to express what, at all times and in all places, is, had been, and 
will be the truth. They are the oracle that must be consulted to know 
what the eternal order of the world demands. Vox populiy vox 



naturae. Eternal principles govern our conduct: Truth, Justice, 
finally. Reason. There we have the new God. The Supreme Being, 
whom cohorts of young girls come to adore at the Feast of Reason, is 
only the ancient god disembodied, peremptorily deprived of any 
connexion with the earth, and launched like a balloon into a heaven 
empty of all transcendent principles. Deprived of aU his representa- 
tives, of any intercessor, the god of the lawyers and philosophers only 
has the value of logic. He is very feeble indeed and we can see why 
Rousseau, who preached tolerance, thought that atheists should be 
condemned to death. To insure the adoration of a theorem for any 
length of time, faith Is not enough, a police force is needed as well. 
But that will only come later. In 1793 the new faith is still enough, 
and it will suffice, to take Saint-Just’s word, to govern according 
to the diaates of reason. The art of ruling, according to him, has 
only produced monsters because, before his time, no one wished to 
govern according to Nature. The period of monsters has come to an 
end with the termination of the period of violence. ‘The human 
heart advances from Nature to violence, from violence to morality.’ 
Morality is, therefore, only Nature finally restored after centuries 
of alienation. Man only has to be given law ‘in accord with Nature 
and with his heart’, and he will cease to be unhappy and corrupt. 
Universal suffrage, the foundation of the new laws, must inevitably 
lead to a universal morality. ‘Our aim is to create an order of things 
which establishes a universal tendency towards good.’ 

The religion of reason quite naturally establishes the Republic 
of law and order. The general ill is expressed in laws codified 
by its representatives. ‘The people make the revolution, the legis- 
lator makes the Republic.’ ‘Immortal, impassive’ institutions, 
‘sheltered from the temerity of man’, will govern in their turn 
the lives of all men by universal accord and without possibility of 
contradiction since by obeying the laws everyone will only be 
obeying themselves. ‘Outside the law’, says Saint-Just, ‘everything 
is sterile and dead.’ It is the formal and legalistic Republic of the 
Romans. We know the passion of Saint-Just and his contemporaries 
for ancient Rome. The decadent young man who, in Rheims, spent 



hours in a room painted black and decorated with white tear-drops, 
with the shutters closed, dreamed of the Spartan Republic. The 
author of Organic a long and licentious poem, was absolutely con- 
vinced of the necessity for frugality and virtue. In his institutions, 
Saint-Just refused to allow children to eat meat until the age of 
sixteen and dreamed of a nation which was both vegetarian and 
revolutionary. ‘The world has been empty since the Romans,’ he 
exclaimed. But heroic times were near at hand. Cato, Brutus, 
Scaevola, had become possible once more. The rhetoric of the Latin 
moralists flourished again. ‘Vice, virtue, corruption’, were terms 
which constantly recurred in the oratory of the times, and, even 
more, in the speeches of Saint-Just of which they were the perpetual 
burden. The reason for this is simple. This perfect structure, as 
Montesquieu had already seen, could not exist without virtue. The 
French Revolution, by claiming to build history on the principle of 
absolute purity, simultaneously introduces modern times and the era 
of formal morality. 

What, in fact, is virtue? For the bourgeois philosopher of the 
period it is conformity with Nature and, in politics, conformity with 
the law which expresses the general will. ‘Morality’, says Saint- 
Just, ‘is stronger than tyrants.’ In effect, it amounts to killing Louis 
XVL Every form of disobedience to law therefore comes, not from 
an imperfection in the law, which is presumed to be impossible, but 
from a lack of virtue in the refractory citizen. That is why the Re- 
public is not only an assembly, as Saint- Just forcibly says, it is also 
virtue. Every form of moral corruption is at the same time political 
corruption, and vice versa. A principle of infinite repression, 
derived from this very doctrine, is then established. Undoubtedly 
Saint-Just was sincere in his desire for a universal idyll. He really 
dreamed of a Republic of ascetics, of humanity reconciled and 
dedicated to the chaste pursuits of the age of innocence, under the 
watchful eye of those wise old men whom he decked out in advance 
with a tricolour scarf and a white plume. We also know that, at the 
beginning of the Revolution, Saint- Just pronounced himself, to- 
gether with Robespierre, against the death penalty. He only insisted 



tbat murderers should be dressed in black for the rest of their lives. 
He wanted to establish a form of justice which did not attempt 
‘to find the culprit guilty but to find him weak’ ~ an admirable 
ambition. He also dreamed of a Republic of forgiveness which 
would recognize that though the fruits of crime are bitter its roots 
are nevertheless tender. One of his outbursts, at least came from the 
heart and is not easily forgotten: ‘it is a frightful thing to torment 
the people’. Yes, indeed, it is a frightful thing. But a man can 
realize this and yet submit to principles which imply, in the final 
analysis, the torment of the people. 

Morality, when it is formal, devours. To paraphrase Saint- Just, 
nothing is virtuous innocently. From the moment that laws fail 
to make harmony reign, or when the unity which should be created 
by adherence to principles is destroyed, who is to blame ? Factions. 
Who comprises the factions ? Those who deny by their very actions 
the necessity of unity. Factions divide the sovereign; therefore they 
are blasphemous and crimmal. They, and they alone, must be com- 
bated. But what if there are many factions ? All shall be fought to the 
death. Saint-Just exclaims: ‘Either the virtues or the Terror.’ Free- 
dom must be guaranteed and the draft constitution presented to 
the Convention already mentions the death penalty. Absolute virtue 
is impossible and the republic of forgiveness leads, with implacable 
logic, to the republic of the guillotine. Montesquieu had already 
denounced this logic as one of the causes of the decadence of societies, 
saying that the abuse of power is greatest when laws do not anticipate 
it. The pure law of Saint-Just did not take into account the truth, 
which is as old as history itself, that law, in its essence, is bound to 
be transgressed. 


Saint-Just, the contemporary of Sade, finally arrives at the justifi- 
cation of crime, although he starts from very different principles. 



Saint- Just is, of course, the anti-Sade. If Sade*s formula were 
‘open the prisons and prove your virtue’, then Saint-Just’s would 
be: ‘Prove your virtue or go to prison.’ However, both justify terror- 
ism - the libertine justifies individual terrorism, the high priest of 
virtue. State terrorism. Absolute good or absolute evil, if the neces- 
sary logic is applied, both demand the same degree of ecstasy. Of 
course, there is a certain ambiguity in the case of Saint-Just. The 
letter which he wrote to Vilain D’Aubigny in 1792 has something 
really insane about it. It is a profession of faith by a persecuted 
persecutor which ends with a hysterical avowal: ‘If Brutus does 
not kill others, he will kill himself.’ A personality so obstinately 
serious, so voluntarily cold, logical, and imperturbable, leads one 
to imagine every kind of aberration and disorder. Saint-Just invented 
the kind of seriousness which makes the history of the last two 
centuries so tedious and depressing. ‘He who makes jokes as the 
head of a government,’ he said, ‘has a tendency to tyranny.’ An 
astonishing maxim, above all if one tliinks of the penalty for the 
mere accusation of tyraimy, and one which, in any case, prepared 
the way for the pedant Caesars. Saint-Just sets the example; even 
his tone is definitive. That cascade of peremptory affirmatives, that 
axiomatic and sententious style, portrays him better than the most 
faithful painting. His sentences drone on; his definitions follow one 
another with the coldness and precision of commandments. ‘Prin- 
ciples should be moderate, laws implacable.’ It is the style of the 

Such pertinacity in logic, however, implies a profound passion. 
Here, as elsewhere, we again find the passion for unity. Every rebel- 
lion implies some kind of unity. The rebellion of 1789 demands the 
unity of the whole country. Saint- Just dreams of an ideal dty 
where manners and customs, in final agreement with the law, will 
proclaim the innocence of man and the identity of his nature with 
reason. And if factions arise to interrupt this dream, passion will 
exaggerate its logic. No one will dare to imagine that, since factions 
exist, the principles are conceivably wrong. Factions will be con- 
demned as criminal because principles remain inviolable. ‘It is 



time that everyone returned to morality and the aristocracy to the 
Terror.’ But the aristocratic factions are not the only ones to be 
reckoned with, there are the republicans, too, and anyone else who 
criticizes the actions of the Legislature and of the Convention. They, 
too, are guilty since they threaten unity. Saint-Just, then, proclaims 
the major principle of twentieth-century tyrannies. ‘A patriot is he 
who supports the republic in general; whoever opposes it in detail 
is a traitor.’ Whoever criticizes it is a traitor, whoever fails to give 
open support is a suspect. When neither reason, nor the free expres- 
sion of individual opinion, succeeds in systematically establishing 
unity, it must be decided to suppress all alien elements. Thus the 
guillotine becomes a logician whose fimction is refutation. ‘A rogue 
who has been condemned to death by the tribunal says he wants 
to resist oppression simply because he wants to resist the scaffold!’ 
Saint- Just’s indignation is hard to understand in that, until his 
time, the scaffold was precisely nothing else but one of the most 
obvious symbols of oppression. But at the heart of this logical de- 
lirium, at the logical conclusion of this morality of virtue, the scaffold 
represents freedom. It assures rational unity and that harmony will 
reign in the ideal city. It purifies (the word is apt) the republic, and 
eliminates malpractices which arise to contradict the general wiU 
and universal reason. ‘ They question my right to the title of philan- 
thropist,’ Marat exclaims; in quite a different style, ‘Ah! What 
injustice!’ ‘Who cannot see that I want to cut off a few heads to 
save a great number ? ’ A few - a faction ? Naturally - and all historic 
actions are performed at this price. But Marat, making his final cal- 
culations, claimed two hundred and sixty-three thousand heads. But 
he compromised the therapeutic aspect of the operation by scream- 
ing during the massacre: ‘Brand them with hot irons, cut off their 
thumbs, tear out their tongues.’ This philanthropist wrote day and 
night, in the most monotonous vocabulary imaginable, of the neces- 
sity of killing in order to create. He wrote again, by candlelight deep 
down in his cellar, during the September nights while his henchmen 
were installing spectators’ benches in prison courtyards - men on the 
right, women on the left - to display as a gracious example of philan- 



thropy, the spectacle of the aristocracy having their heads cut off. 

Do not let us confuse, even for a moment, the imposing figure of 
Saint-Just with the sad spectacle of Marat - Rousseau’s monkey as 
Michelet rightly calls him. But the drama of Saint-Just lies in having 
at moments joined forces, for superior and much deeper reasons, with 
Marat. Factions join with factions and minorities with minorities, and 
in the end he is not even sure that the scaffold functions in the service 
of the will of all. But at least Saint-Just will affirm, to the bitter end, 
that it functions in the service of the general will, since it functions in 
the service of virtue. ‘A revolution such as ours is not a trail, but a 
dap of thunder for the wicked.’ God strikes like a thunderbolt, 
innocence is a flash of lightning - a flash of lightning which brings 
justice. Even the pleasure-seekers, in fact they above all, are 
counter-revolutionaries. Saint- Just, who said that the idea of hap- 
piness was new to Europe (actually it was mainly new for Saint-Just 
for whom history stopped at Brutus), remarks that some people have 
an ‘appalling idea of what happiness is and confuse it with plea- 
sure’. They, too, must be taught a lesson. Finally, it is no longer 
a question of majority or minority. Paradise, lost and always coveted 
by universal innocence, disappears into the distance; on the unhappy 
earth, racked with the cries of civil and national wars. Saint- Just 
decrees, against his nature and against his principles, that when the 
whole country suffers then all are guilty. The series of reports on the 
factions abroad, the law of the 22 Prairial, the speech of 15 April 1794, 
on the necessity of the police, mark the stages of this conversation. 
The man who with such nobility held that it was infamous to lay 
down one’s arms while there remained, somewhere in the world, one 
master and one slave, is the same man who had to agree to suspend 
the Constitution of 1793 and to adopt arbitrary rule. In the speech 
that he made to defend Robespierre, he rejects fame and posterity 
and only refers himself to an abstract providence. At the same time, 
he recognized that virtue, of which he made a religion, has no other 
reward but history and the present, and that it must, at all costs, lay 
the foundations of its own reign. He did not like power which he 
called ‘cruel and wicked* and which, he said, ‘advanced towards 



repression, without any guiding principle’. But the guiding principle 
was virtue and was derived from the people. When the people failed, 
the guiding principle became obscured and oppression increased. 
Therefore, it was the people who were guilty and not power which 
must remain, in principle, innocent. Such an extreme and outrageous 
contradiction could only be resolved by an even more extreme logic 
and by the final acceptance of principles in silence and in death. 
Saint- Just at least remained equal to this demand, and in this way 
was at last to find his greatness and that independent life in time and 
space of which he spoke with such emotion. 

For a long time he had, in fact, had a presentiment that the demands 
he made imphed a total and unreserved sacrifice on his part and had 
said himself that those who make revolutions in this world - ‘ Those 
who do good* - can only sleep in the tomb. Convinced that his prin- 
ciples, in order to triumph, must culminate in the virtue and happi- 
ness of his people, aware, perhaps, that he was asking the impossible, 
he cut off his own retreat in advance by declaring that he would stab 
himself in public on the day when he despaired of the people. Never- 
theless, he despairs, since he has doubts about the Terror. ‘The 
revolution is frozen, every principle has been attenuated; all that 
remains are red caps worn by intriguers. The exercise of terror has 
blunted crime as strong drink blunts the palate.’ Even virtue ‘ unites 
with crime in times of anarchy’. He said that all crime sprang from 
tyranny which was the greatest crime of all, and yet, confronted with 
the unflagging obstinacy of crime, the Revolution itself resorted to 
tyranny and became criminal. Thus crime caimot be obhterated, nor 
can factions, nor the despicable desire for enjoyment; the people 
must be despaired of and subjugated. But nor is it possible to govern 
innocently. Thus, evil must either be suffered or served, principles 
must be declared capable of error or the people and mankind must 
be recognized as guilty. Then Saint- Just averts his mysterious and 
handsome face : ‘ It would be leaving very little to leave a life in which 
one must either be the accomplice or the silent witness of evil.’ 
Brutus, who must kill himself if he does not kill others, begins by 
killing others. But the others are too many; they cannot all be killed 



In that case he must die and demonstrate, yet again, that rebellion, 
when it gets out of hand, swings from the annihilation of others to the 
destruction of the self. This task, at any rate, is easy; it suffices to 
follow logic, once more, to the bitter end. In his speech in defence of 
Robespierre, shortly before his death. Saint- Just reaffirms the guid- 
ing principle of his actions which is the very same principle that leads 
to his condemnation: ‘I belong to no faction, I shall fight against 
them all.’ He accepted then, and in advance, the decision of the 
general will - in other words, of the Assembly. He agreed to go to his 
death for love of principle and despite all the realities of the situation, 
since the opinion of the Assembly could only really be swayed by the 
eloquence and fanaticism of a faction. But that is beside the point! 
When principles fail, men have only one way to save them and to 
preserve their faith, which is to die for them. In the stifling heat of 
Paris in July, Saint- Just, ostensibly rejecting reality and the world, 
confesses that he stakes his life on the decision of principles. When 
this had been said, he seems to have a fleeting perception of another 
truth, and ends with a restrained denunciation of his colleagues, 
Billaud-Varennes and Collot d’Herbois. T want them to justify 
themselves and I want us to become wiser.’ The style and the guillo- 
tine are here suspended for a moment. But virtue, in that it has too 
much pride, is not wisdom. The guillotine is going to fall again on 
that head as cold and beautiful as morality itself. From the moment 
that the Assembly condemns him, until the moment when he stret- 
ches his neck to the knife. Saint- Just keeps silent. This long silence is 
more important than his death. He complained that silence reigned 
around thrones and that is why he wanted to speak so much and so 
well. But in the end, contemptuous of the tyranny and the enigma of 
a people who do not conform to pure reason, he resorts to silence 
himself. His principles cannot accept the condition of things; and 
things not being what they should be his principles are therefore 
fixed, silent, and alone. To abandon oneself to principles is really to 
die - and to die for an impossible love which is the contrary of love. 
Saint- Just dies, and with him all hope of a new religion. 

‘All the stones are cut to build the structure of freedom,’ said 



Saint- Just; ‘you can build a palace or a tomb of the same stones.’ The 
very principles of The Social Contract presided at the elevation of the 
tomb which Napoleon Bonaparte came to seal. Rousseau, who was 
not wanting in common sense, understood very well that the society 
envisioned by The Social Contract was only suitable for gods. His 
successors took him at his word and tried to establish the divinity of 
man. The red flag - a symbol of martial law and therefore of the 
executive under the ancien regime - became the revolutionary symbol 
on 10 August 1792. A significant transfer about which Jaur^ com- 
ments as follows : ‘ It is we the people who are the law. . . . We are not 
rebels. The rebels are in the Tuileries.’ But it is not so easy as that to 
become God. Even the gods of the ancients did not die at the first 
blow and the revolutions of the nineteenth century were intended to 
achieve the final liquidation of the principle of divinity. Paris rose to 
place the king once more under the rule of the people and to prevent 
him from restoring an authority of principle. The corpse which the 
rebels of 1830 dragged through the rooms of the Tuilcries and in- 
stalled on the throne in order to pay it derisory homage has no other 
significance. The king could still be, at that period, a respected 
minister, but his authority is now derived from the people and his 
guiding principle is the Charter. He is no longer Majesty. Now that 
the ancien regime had definitely disappeared in France, the new 
regime must again, after 1848, reaffirm itself and the history of the 
nineteenth century up to 1914 is the history of the restoration of 
popular sovereignties against ancien regime monarchies; in other 
words, the history of the principle of nations. This principle finally 
triumphs in 1919 which witnesses the disappearance of all Absolutist 
monarchies in Europe.'*' Everywhere, the sovereignty of the nation is 
substituted, in law and in fact, for the sovereign king. Only then can 
the consequences of the principles of 1789 be seen. We survivors are 
the first to be able to judge them clearly. 

* With the exception of the Spanish monarchy. But the German Empire 
collapsed, of which Wilhelm II said that it was ‘ the proof that we Hohenzol- 
lems derive our crown from heaven alone and that it is to heaven alone that 
we must give an accounting’. 



The Jacobins reinforced the eternal moral principles to the extent 
to which they supressed the things which, up to then, had supported 
these principles. As preachers of a gospel, they wanted to base 
fraternity on the abstract law of the Romans. They substituted the 
law for divine commandments on the supposition that it must be 
recognized by all because it was the expression of the general will. 
The law found its justification in natural virtue and then proceeded 
to justify natural virtue. But immediately a single faction manifests 
itself, this reasoning collapses and we perceive that virtue has need of 
justification in order not to be abstract. In the same way, the 
bourgeois jurists of the eighteenth century, by burying under the 
weight of their principles the just and vital conquests of their people, 
prepared the way for the two contemporary forms of nihilism: 
individual nihilism and State nihilism. 

Law can reign, in fact, in so far as it is the law of universal reason.^ 
But it never is and it loses its justification if man is not naturally good. 
A day comes when ideology conflias with psychology. Then there is 
no more legitimate power. Thus the law evolves to the point of 
becoming confused with the legislator and with a new form of 
absolutism. Where to turn then ? The law has gone completely off its 
course; and, losing its precision, it becomes more and more inac- 
curate to the point of making everything a crime. The law always 
reigns supreme, but it no longer has any fixed limits. Saint-Just had 
foreseen that this form of tyranny might be exercised in the name of a 
silent people. ‘ Ingenious crime will be exalted into a kind of religion 
and criminals will be in the sacred hierarchy.’ But this is inevitable. If 
major principles have no foundation, if the law expresses nothing but 
a provisional inclination, it is only made in order to be broken or to be 
imposed. Sade or dictatorship, individual terrorism or State terrorism, 
both justified by the same absence of justification, are, from the mo- 
ment that rebellion cuts itself off from its roots and abstains from any 
concrete morality, one of the alternatives of the twentieth century. 

* Hegel saw clearly that the philosophy of enlightenment wanted to 
deliver man from the irrational. Reason reunites mankind while the irrational 
destroys unity. 



The revolutionary movement which was bom in 1789 could not, 
however, stop there. God, for the Jacobins, is not completely dead, 1 
any more than He was dead for the romantics. They still preserve the 
Supreme Being. Reason, in a certain way, is still a mediator. It implies ^ 
a pre-existent order. But God is at least dematerialized and reduced 
to the theoretical existence of a moral principle. The bourgeoisie 
succeeded in reigning only during the entire nineteenth century 
by referring itself to abstract principles. Less worthy than Saint- 
Just, it simply made use of this frame of reference as an alibi, while 
employing on all occasions the opposite values. By its essential 
conuption and disheartening hypocrisy, it helped finally to discredit 
the principles it proclaimed. Its culpability, in this regard, is infinite. 
From the moment that eternal principles are put in doubt simultane- 
ously with formal virtue and when every value is discredited, reason 
will start to act without reference to anytliing but its own successes. 
It would like to rule, denying everything that exists and affirming 
what is to come. One day it will conquer. Russian Communism, by 
its violent criticism of every kind of formal virtue, puts the finishing 
touches to the revolutionary work of the nineteenth century by 
denying any superior principle. The regicides of the nineteenth 
century are succeeded by the deicides of the twentieth century, who 
want to make the earth a kingdom where man is God. The reign of 
history begins and, identifying himself only with his history, man, 
unfaithful to his real rebellion, will henceforth devote himself to the 
nihilistic revolution of the twentieth century which denies all forms 
of morality and desperately attempts to achieve the unity of the hu- 
man race through an exhausting series of crimes and wars. The 
Jacobin Revolution which tried to institute the religion of virtue in 
order to achieve unity by doing so, will be followed by the cynical 
revolutions, which can be either of the right or of the left, which will 
try to achieve the unity of the world so as to found, at last, the 
religion of man. All that was God’s will henceforth be rendered to 

The Deicides 

Justice, reason, truth still shone in the Jacobin heaven; performing 
the function of fixed stars which could, at least, serve as guides. 
German nineteenth-century thinkers, particularly Hegel, wanted to 
continue the work of the French Revolution while suppressing the 
causes of its failure. Hegel thought that he discerned the seeds of the 
Terror contained in the abstract principles of the Jacobins. According 
to him, absolute and abstract freedom must inevitably lead to ter- 
rorism; the rule of abstract law is identical to the rule of oppression. 
For example, Hegel remarks that the period between the time of 
Augustus and Alexander Serverus (a.d. 235) is the period of the 
i greatest legal proficiency but also the period of the most ruthless 
tyranny. To avoid this contradiction, it was therefore necessary to 
wish to construct a concrete society, invigorated by a principle that 
was not formal, in which freedom could be reconciled with necessity. 
German philosophy therefore finished by substituting, for the 
universal but abstract reason of Saint-Just and Rousseau, a less 
artificial but more ambiguous idea: concrete universal reason. Up to 
this point, reason had soared above the phenomena which were 
related to it. Now reason is, henceforth, incorporated in the stream 
of historic events, which it explains while they give it substance. 

It can certainly be said that Hegel rationahzed to the point of being 
irrational. But, at the same time, he gave reason an unreasonable 
shock by endowing it with a lack of moderation, the results of which 
are now before our eyes. Into the fixed ideas of its period, German 
thought suddenly introduced an irresistible urge to movement. 
Truth, reason, and justice were brusquely incarnated in the future 
of the world. But by committing them to perpetual acceleration, 
German ideology confused their existence with their movements and 
fixed the conclusion of their existence at the conclusion of the historic 
future - if there was to be one. These values have ceased to be 



guides in order to become goals. As for the means of attaining these 
goals, in other words life and history, no pre-existent value can point 
the way. On the contrary, a large part of Hegelian demonstration is 
devoted to proving that moral conscience by being so banal as to obey 
justice and truth, as though these values existed independently of the 
world, jeopardizes, precisely for this reason, the advent of these 
values. The rule of action has thus become action itself - which must 
be performed in darkness while awaiting the final illumination. 
Reason, annexed by this form of romanticism, is nothing more than 
an inflexible passion. 

The ends have remained the same, only ambition has increased; 
thought has become dynamic, reason has embraced the future and 
aspired to conquest. Action is no more than a calculation based on 
results, not on principles. From this moment dates the idea (hostile 
to every concept of ancient thought which, nevertheless, reappeared 
to a certain extent in the spirit of revolutionary France) that man has 
not been endowed with a definitive human nature, that he is not a 
finished creation but an experiment of which he can be partly the 
creator. With Napoleon and the Napoleonic philosopher Hegel, the 
period of efficaciousness begins. Before Napoleon, men had dis- 
covered space and the universe, with Napoleon they discovered time 
and the future in terms of this world : and by this discovery the spirit 
of rebellion is going to be profoundly transformed. 

In any case, it is strange to find Hegel’s philosophy at this new stage 
in the development of the spirit of rebellion. Actually, in one sense, 
his work exudes an absolute horror of dissidence: he wanted to be 
the very essence of reconciliation. But this is only one aspect of a 
system which, by its very method, is the most ambiguous in all 
philosophic literature. To the extent that, for liim, what is real is 
rational, he justifies every ideological encroachment upon reality. 
What has been called Hegel’s panlogic is a justification of the condi- 
tion of fact. But his philosophy also exalts destruction for its own 
sake. Everything is reconciled, of course, in the dialectic, and one 
extreme cannot be stated without the other arising; there exists in 
Hegel, as in aU great thinkers, the material for contradicting Hegel. 



But philosophers are rarely read with the head alone, but often with 
the heart and all its passions which can accept no kind of reconciliation. 

Nevertheless, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth century have 
borrowed from Hegel the weapons with which they definitively 
destroyed the formal principles of virtue. All that they have pre- 
served is the vision of a history without any kind of transcendence 
dedicated to perpetual strife and to the struggle of wills bent on 
seizing power. In its critical aspect, the revolutionary movement of 
our times is, primarily, a violent denunciation of the formal hypocrisy 
which presides over bourgeois society. The partially justified pre- 
tension of modem Communism, like the more frivolous claim of 
Fascism, is to denounce the mystification which undermines the 
principles and virtues of the bourgeois type of democracy. Divine 
transcendence, up to 1789, served to justify the arbitrary actions of 
the king. After the French Revolution, the transcendence of the 
formal principles of reason or justice serve to justify a rule which is 
neither just nor reasonable. This transcendence is therefore a mask 
that must be torn off. God is dead, but as Stimer predicted, the 
morality of principles in which the memory of God is still preserved 
must also be killed. The hatred of formal virtue - degraded witness to 
divinity and false witness in the service of injustice - has remained 
one of the principal themes of history today. Nothing is pure: that 
is the cry which rends the air of our times. Impurity, the equivalent 
of history, is going to become the rule, and the abandoned earth will 
be delivered to naked force which will decide whether or not man is 
divine. Thus lies and violence are adopted in the same spirit in which 
a religion is adopted and on the same heartrending impulse. 

But the first fundamental criticism of the good conscience - the 
denunciation of the beautiful soul and of ineffective attitudes - we owe 
to Hegel for whom the ideology of the good, the true, and the beauti- 
ful is the religion of those possessed of none of them. While the mere 
existence of factions surprises Saint- Just and contravenes the ideal 
order that he affirms, Hegel not only is not surprised, but even 
affirms that faction is the prelude to thought. For the Jacobin, every- 
one is virtuous. The movement which starts with Hegel and which is 



triumphant today, presumes, on the contrary, that no one is virtuous 
but that everyone will be. At the beginning, everything, according to 
Saint-Just, is an idyll, while, according to Hegel, it is a tragedy. But 
in the end that amounts to the same thing. Those who destroy the 
idyll must be destroyed or destruction must be embarked on in order 
to create the idyll. Violence, in both cases, is the victor. The avoid- 
ance of the Terror, undertaken by Hegel, only leads to an extension 
of the Terror. 

That is not all. Apparently the world today can no longer be any- 
thing other than a world of masters and slaves because contemporary 
ideologies, those that are changing the face of the earth, have learned 
from Hegel to conceive of history as the product of and mastery of 
slavery. If, on the first morning of the world, under the empty sky, 
there is only a master and a slave; even if there is only the bond of 
master and slave between a transcendent god and mankind, then there 
can be no other law in this world but the law of force. Only a god, or a 
principle above the master and the slave, could intervene and make 
men’s history more than a simple chronicle of victories and defeats. 
First Hegel and then the Hegelians have tried, on the contrary, to 
destroy, more and more thoroughly, all idea of transcendence and any 
nostalgia for transcendence. Although there was infinitely more in 
Hegel than in the left-wing Hegelians who, finally, triumphed over 
him, he nevertheless furnished, on the level of the dialectic of master 
and slave, the decisive justification of the spirit of power in the 
twentieth century. The conqueror is always right; that is one of the 
lessons that can be learned from the most important German 
philosophical system of the nineteenth century. Of course, there is to 
be found in the prodigious Hegelian structure a means of partially 
contradicting these ideas. But twentieth-century ideology is not con- 
nected with what is improperly called the idealism of the master of 
Jena. Hegel’s face, which reappears in Russian Communism, has 
been successively remodelled by David Strauss, Bruno Bauer, 
Feuerbach, Marx, and the entire Hegelian left-wing. We are only 
interested in him here, in that he alone has any real bearing on the 
history of our time. If Nietzsche and Hegel serve as alibis to the mas- 



ters of Dachau and Karaganda that does not condemn their entire 
philosophy. But it does lead to the suspicion that one aspect of their 
thought, or of their logic, can lead to these appalling conclusions. 

Nietzschean nihilism is methodical. The Phenomenology of the 
Mind also has a didactic aspect. At the meeting-point of two cen- 
turies, it depicts, in its successive stages, the education of the mind 
as it pursues its way towards absolute truth. It can be compared on 
the metaphysical level with Rousseau’s J^mile. Each stage is an error 
and is, moreover, accompanied by historic sanctions which are 
almost always fatal, either to the mind or to the civilization in which 
it is reflected. Hegel proposes to demonstrate the necessity of these 
painful stages. The Phenomenology is, in one aspect, a meditation on 
despair and death. The mission of despair is, simply, to be methodical 
in that it must be transfigured, at the end of history, into absolute 
satisfaction and absolute wisdom. The book has the defect, however, 
of only imagining highly intelligent pupils and it has been taken 
literally, while literally, it only wanted to proclaim the spirit. It is the 
same with the celebrated analysis of mastery and slavery. 

Animals, according to Hegel, have an immediate knowledge of the 
exterior world, a perception of the self, but not the knowledge of self 
which distinguishes man. The latter is only really bom at the moment 
when he becomes aware of himself as a rational being. Therefore his 
essential characteristic is self-consciousness. Consciousness of self, 
to be affirmed, must distinguish itself from what it is not. Man is a 
creature who, to affirm his existence and his difference, denies. What 
distinguishes consciousness of self from the world of nature is not the 
simple act of contemplation by which it identifies itself with the 
exterior world and finds oblivion, but the desire it can feel with re- 
gard to the world. This desire re-establishes its identity, when it 
demonstrates that the exterior world is something apart. In its desire, 
the exterior world consists of what it does not possess, but which 
nevertheless exists, and of what it would like to exist but which no 
longer does. Consciousness of self is therefore, of necessity, desire. 
But in order to exist it must be satisfied, and it can only be satisfied 



by the gratification of its desire. It therefore acts in order to gratify 
itself and, in so doing, it denies and suppresses its means of gratifica- 
tion. It is the epitome of negation. To act is to destroy in order to 
give birth to the spiritual reality of consciousness. But to destroy an 
object unconsciously, as meat is destroyed, for example, in the act of 
eating, is a purely animal activity. To consume is not yet to be con- 
scious. Desire for consciousness must be directed towards something 
other than unconscious nature. The only thing in the world that is 
distinct from nature is, precisely, self-consciousness. Therefore 
desire must be centred upon another form of desire, self-conscious- 
ness must be gratified by another form of self-consciousness. In 
simple words, man is not recognized - and does not recognize liim- 
self - as a man as long as he limits himself to subsisting like an animal. 
He must be acknowledged by other men. All consciousness is, basic- 
ally, the desire to be recognized and proclaimed as such by other 
consciousnesses. It is others who beget us. Only in association do we 
receive a human value, as distinet from an animal value. 

In that the supreme value, for the animal, is the preservation of 
life, consciousness should raise itself above the level of that instinct 
in order to achieve human value. It should be capable of risking its 
life. To be recognized by another consciousness, man should be 
ready to risk his life and to accept the chance of death. Fundamental 
human relations are thus relations of pure prestige, a perpetual 
struggle, to the death, for recognition of one human being by another. 

At the first stage of his dialectic, Hegel affirms that in so far as 
death is the common ground of man and animal, it is by accepting 
death and even by inviting it that the former differentiates himself 
from the latter. At the heart of tliis primordial struggle for recogni- 
tion, man is thus identified with violent death. The mystic slogan 
‘Die and become what you are’ is taken up once more by Hegel. But 
‘become what you are’ gives place to ‘become what you so far are 
not’. This primitive and passionate desire for recognition, which is 
confused with the will to exist, can only be satisfied by a recognition 
gradually extended until it embraces everyone. In that everyone wants 
equally much to be recognized by everyone, the fight for life will only 



cease with the recognition of all by all which will mark the termina- 
tion of history. The existence which Hegelian consciousness seeks to 
obtain is born in the hard-won glory of collective approval. It is not 
beside the point to note that, in the thought inspired by our revolu- 
tions, the supreme good does not, in reality, coincide with existence 
but with an arbitrary facsimile. The entire history of mankind is, in 
any case, nothing but a prolonged fight to the death for the conquest 
of universal prestige and absolute power. It is, in its essence, imperia- 
list. We are far from the gentle savage of the eighteenth century and 
from the Social Contract, In the sound and fury of the passing 
centuries, each separate consciousness, to ensure its own existence, 
must henceforth desire the death of others. In its excesses, this relent- 
less tragedy is absurd, since, in the event of one consciousness being 
destroyed, the victorious conscience is not recognized as such in that 
it cannot be victorious in the eyes of something that no longer exists. 
In fact, it is here that the philosophy of appearances reaches its 

No human reality would therefore have been engendered if, 
through a natural characteristic which can be considered fortunate 
for Hegel’s system, there had not existed, from the beginning of time, 
two kinds of consciousness, one of which has not the courage to 
renounce life and which is therefore willing to recognize the other 
kind of consciousness without being recognized itself in return. It 
consents, in short, to being considered as an object. This type of 
consciousness which, to preserve its animal existence, renounces 
independent life, is the consciousness of a slave. The type of con- 
sciousness which by being recognized achieves independence is that 
of the master. They are distinguished one from the other at the 
moment when they clash and when one submits to the other. The 
dilemma at this stage is not to be free or to die, but to kill or conquer, 
T his dilemma will resound throughout the course of history. 

Undoubtedly the master enjoys total freedom first as regards the 
slave, since the latter recognizes him totally, and then as regards the 
natural world, since by his work the slave transforms it into objects 
of enjoyment which the master consumes in a perpetual affirmation 



of his own identity. However, this autonomy is not absolute. The 
master, to his detriment, is recognized in his autonomy by a con- 
sciousness which he himself does not recognize as autonomous. 
Therefore he cannot be satisfied and his autonomy is only negative. 
Mastery is a blind alley. Since, moreover, he cannot renounce mas- 
tery and become a slave again, the eternal destiny of masters is to live 
unsatisfied or to be killed. The master serves no other purpose in 
history but to arouse servile consciousness, the only form of con- 
sciousness that really makes history. The slave, in fact, is not bound 
to his condition, but wants to change it. Thus, unlike his master, he 
can improve himself, and what is called history is nothing but the 
effects of his long efforts to obtain real freedom. Already, by work, 
by his transformation of the natural world into a technical world, he 
manages to escape from the nature which was the basis of his slavery 
in that he did not know how to raise himself above it by accepting 
death.* The very agony of death experienced in the humiliation of 
the entire being lifts the slave to the level of human totality. He 
knows, henceforth, that this totality exists; now it only remains for 
him to realize it through a long series of struggles against nature and 
against the masters. History identifies itself, therefore, with the 
history of endeavour and rebellion. It is hardly astonishing that 
Marxism-Leninism derived, from this dialectic, the contemporary 
ideal of the soldier-worker. 

We shall leave aside the description of the various attitudes of 
the servile consciousness (stoicism, scepticism, guilty conscience) 
which then follows in The Phenomenology. But thanks to its conse- 
quences another aspect of this dialectic cannot be neglected, namely, 
the assimilation of the master-slave relationship between man and 
god. One of Hegel’s commentatorsf remarks that if the master really 
existed, he would be God. In his description of guilty conscience, he 

* Actually, the ambiguity is profound, for the nature in question is not tlie 
same. Docs the advent of the technical world suppress death or the fear of 
death in the natural world ? That is the real question which Hegel leaves in 

t Jean Hyppolite. 



shows how the Christian slave, wishing to deny the existence of his 
oppressor, takes refuge in the world beyond and by doing so gives 
himself a new master in the person of God. Elsewhere Hegel identi- 
fies the supreme master with absolute death. And so the struggle 
begins again, on a higher level, between man in chains and the cruel 
god of Abraham. The resolution of this new conflict between the 
universal god and the human entity will be furnished by Christ who 
reconciles in Himself the universal and the unique. But, in one sense, 
Christ is a part of the palpable world. He is visible. He lived, and He 
died. He is therefore only a stop on the road to the universal : He too 
must be denied dialectically. It is only necessary to recognize Him as 
the man-God to obtain a higher synthesis. Skipping the intermediary 
stages, it suffices to say that this synthesis, after being incarnated in 
the Church and in reason, culminates in the absolute State, founded 
by the soldier-workers, where the spirit of the world will be finally 
sdf-reflected in the mutual recognition of each by all and in the 
universal reconciliation of everything that has ever existed under 
the sun. At this moment, ‘when the eyes of the spirit coincide with the 
eyes of the body’, each individual consciousness will be nothing 
more than a mirror reflecting another mirror, itself reflected to 
infinity in infinitely recurring images. The City of God will coincide 
with the City of Humanity; and universal history, sitting in judge- 
ment on the world, will pass its sentence by which good and evil 
will be justified, the State will play the part of Destiny and will 
proclaim its approval of every aspect of reality on ‘the sacred day 
of the Presence’. 

This sums up the essential ideas which in spite, or because, of the 
extreme ambiguity of their interpretation, have literally driven the 
revolutionary mind in apparently contradictory directions and which 
we are now learning to recognize in the ideology of our times. 
Amorality, scientific materialism, and atheism have definitely re- 
placed the anti-theism of the rebels of former times and have made 
common cause, under Hegel’s paradoxical influence, with a revolu- 
tionary movement which, until his time, was never really separated 



from its moral, evangelical, and idealistic origins. These tendencies, 
if they are sometimes very far from really originating with Hegel, 
found their source in the ambiguity of his thought and in his critique 
of the doctrine of transcendence. Hegel’s undeniable originality lies 
in his definitive destruction of all vertical transcendence - particularly 
the transcendence of principles. There is no doubt that he restores 
the immanence of the spirit to the evolution of the world. But this 
immanence is not precisely defined and has nothing in common with 
the pantheism of the ancients. The spirit is and is not part of the 
world; it creates itself and will finally prevail. Thus the emphasis is 
placed on the end of history. Until then there is no suitable criterion 
on which to base a judgement of value. One must act and live in 
terms of the future. All morality becomes provisional. The nine- 
teenth and twentieth centuries, in their most profound manifesta- 
tions, are centuries which have tried to live without transcendence. 

One of Hegel’s commentators,* of left-wing tendencies it is true, 
but orthodox in his opinion on this particular point, notes Hegel’s 
hostility to the moralists and remarks that his only axiom is to live 
according to the manners and customs of one’s nation. A maxim of 
social conformity of which Hegel, in fact, gave the most cynical 
proofs. Koj^ve adds, however, that this conformity is only legitimate 
to the extent that tlie customs of the nation correspond to the spirit 
of the times, in other words to the extent that they are solidly estab- 
lished and can resist revolutionary criticism and attacks. But who will 
determine their solidity and who will judge their validity? For a 
hundred years, the capitalist regimes of the West have withstood 
violent assaults. Should they for that reason be considered legitimate ? 
Inversely, should those who were faithful to the Weimar Republic 
have abandoned it and pledged themselves to Hitler, in 1933, because 
the former collapsed when attacked by the latter ? Should the Spanish 
Republic have been betrayed at the exact moment when General 
Franco’s forces triumphed ? These are conclusions which traditional 
reactionary thought would have justified within its own perspectives. 
The novelty, of which the consequences are incalculable, lies in the 
* Alexandre Kojfcve. 



fact that revolutionary thought has assimilated them. The suppres- 
sion of every moral value and of all principles and their replacement 
by fact, as provisional but actual king, could only lead, as we have 
plainly seen, to political cynicism, whether it be fact as envisioned by 
the individual, or more serious still, fact as envisioned by the State. 
The political movements, or ideologies, inspired by Hegel, are all 
united in the ostensible abandonment of virtue. 

Hegel could not, in fact, prevent those who had read him, with 
feelings of anguish which were far from methodical and when 
Europe was already the victim of great injustice, from finding them- 
selves precipitated into a world without innocence and without 
principles - into the very world of which Hegel says that it is in itself 
a sin, since it is separated from the spirit. Hegel, of course, permits 
the forgiveness of sins at the end of history. However, until then, 
every human activity is sinful. ‘Therefore only the absence of activity 
is innocent, the existence of a stone and not even the existence of a 
child.’ Thus even the innocence of stones is unknown to us. Without 
innocence there is no panel of reference and no reason. Without 
reason, there is nothing but naked force, the master and slave waiting 
for reason one day to prevail. Between master and slave, even suffer- 
ing is solitary, joy is without foundation, and both are undeserved. 
Then how can one live, how endure life when friendship is reserved 
for the end of time ? The only escape is to create order with the use 
of weapons. ‘Kill or enslave!’ . . . those who read Hegel with this 
single and terrible purpose only really considered the first part of the 
dilemma. From it they have derived a philosophy of scorn and des- 
pair and have deemed themselves slaves and nothing but slaves, 
bound by death to the absolute Master and by the whip to their 
terrestrial masters. This philosophy of the guilty conscience has 
merely taught them that every slave is enslaved only by his own 
consent, and can only be liberated by an act of protest which coin- 
cides with death. Answering the challenge, the most courageous have 
completely identified themselves with this act of protest and have 
dedicated themselves to death* After all, to say that negation is in 
itself a positive act justified in advance every kind of negation and 



predicted the cry of Bakunin and Nechayev: ‘Our mission is to 
destroy, not to construct.’ A nihilist for Hegel was only a sceptic who 
had no other escape but contradiction or philosophic suicide. But he 
himself gave birth to another type of nihilist who, making boredom 
into a principle of action, identified suicide with philosophic murder.^ 
It was at this point that the terrorists were bom who decided that it 
was necessary to kill and die in order to exist, because mankind and 
history could only be created by sacrifice and murder. The magnifi- 
cent idea that all idealism is chimerical, if it is not paid for by risking 
one’s life, was to be developed to the fullest possible extent by young 
men who were not engaged in expounding the concept from the safe 
distance of a university chair before dying in their beds, but among 
the tumult of falling bombs and even on the gallows. By doing this 
and even by their errors they corrected their masters and demon- 
strated, contrary to his teaching, that one kind of aristocracy, at least, 
is superior to the hideous aristocracy of success exalted by Hegel: 
the aristocracy of sacrifice. 

Another sort of follower, who read Hegel more seriously, chose the 
second term of the dilemma and made the pronouncement that the 
slave could only free himself by enslaving in his turn. Post-Hegelian 
doctrines, unmindful of the mystic aspect of certain of the master’s 
tendencies, have led his followers to absolute atheism and to scientific 
materialism. But this evolution is inconceivable without the absolute 
disappearance of every transcendent principle of explanation, and 
without the complete destruction of the Jacobin ideal. Immanence, 
of course, is not atheism. But immanence in the process of develop- 
ment is, if one can say so, provisional atheism.f The indefinite face of 
God which, with Hegel, is still reflected in the mind of the world will 
not be difficult to efface. Hegel’s successors will draw decisive con- 

* This form of nihilism, despite appearances, is still nihilism in the Nietzs- 
chean sense, to the extent that it is a calumny of the present life to the 
advantage of a historic future in which one tries to believe. 

t In any event, the criticism of Kierkegaard is valid. To base divinity on 
history is, paradoxically, to base an absolute value on approximate knowledge 
Something ‘eternally historic’ is a contradiction in terms. 



elusions from his ambiguous formula: ‘God without man is no more 
than man without God.’ David Strauss in his Life of Jesus isolates the 
theory of Christ considered as the God-man. Bruno Bauer {The 
Critique of Evangelist History) institutes a materialist Christianity by 
insisting on the humanity of Jesus. Finally Feuerbach (whom Marx 
considered as a great mind and of whom he acknowledges himself 
the critical disciple), in his Essence of Christianityy replaces all 
theology by a religion of man and the species, which has converted a 
large part of contemporary thought. His task is to demonstrate that 
the distinction between human and divine is illusory, that it is nothing 
but the distinction between the essence of humanity - in other words, 
human nature - and the individual. ‘The mystery of God is only the 
mystery of the love of man for himself.’ The accents of a strange new 
prophecy ring out: ‘Individuality has replaced faith, reason the 
Bible, politics, religion, and the State, the earth heaven, work 
prayer, poverty, hell, and man has replaced Christ.’ Thus there is 
only one hell and it is on this earth: and it is against this that the 
struggle must be waged. Politics is religion, and transcendent 
Christianity - that of the hereafter - establishes the masters of the 
earth by means of the slave’s renunciation and creates one master 
more beneath the heavens. That is why atheism and the revolutionary 
spirit are only two aspects of the same movement of liberation. That 
is the answer to the question which is always being asked: why has 
the revolutionary movement identified itself with materialism rather 
than with idealism ? Because to conquer God, to make Him a slave, 
amounts to abolishing the transcendence which kept the former 
masters in power and to preparing, with the ascension of the new 
tyrants, the advent of the man-king. When poverty is abolished, 
when historic contradictions are resolved, ‘the real god, the human 
god, will be the State ’. Then homo homini lupus becomes homo homini 
deus. This concept is at the root of the contemporary world. With 
Feuerbach, we assist at the birth of a terrible form of optimism 
which we can still observe at work today and which seems to be the 
very antithesis of nihilist despair. But that is only in appearance. We 
must know Feuerbach’s final conclusions in the Theogony to perceive 


the profoundly nihilist derivation of his inflamed imagination. In 
effect, Feuerbach affirms, in the face of Hegel, that man is only what 
he eats, and recapitulates his ideas and predicts the future in the 
following phrase: ‘The true philosophy is the negation of philosophy. 
No religion is my religion. No philosophy is my philosophy.’ 

Cynicism, the deification of history and of matter, individual 
terror and State crime, these are the inordinate consequences which 
will now spring, armed to the teeth, from the equivocal conception 
of a world which entrusts to history alone the task of producing both 
values and truth. If nothing can be clearly understood before truth 
has been brought to light, at the end of time, then every action is 
arbitrary and force will finally rule supreme. ‘ If reality is inconceiv- 
able,’ Hegel exclaims, ‘then we must contrive inconceivable con- 
cepts.’ A concept that cannot be conceived must, perforce, like 
error, be contrived. But to be accepted it cannot rely on the 
persuasion innate in order and truth, but must finally be imposed. 
Hegel’s attitude consists of saying: ‘this is truth which however 
appears to us to be error, but which is true, precisely because it 
happens to be error. As for proof, it is not I, but history, at its con- 
clusions, which will furnish it.’ Such pretensions can only entail two 
attitudes : either the suspension of all affirmation until the production 
of proof, or the affirmation of everything, in history, which seems 
dedicated to success -- force in particular - which, in either case, is a 
form of nihilism. Moreover, it is impossible to understand twentieth- 
century revolutionary thought if we overlook the fact that unfortu- 
nately it derived a large part of its inspiration from a philosophy of 
conformity and opportunism. True rebellion is not jeopardized on 
account of the distortion of these particular ideas. 

Nevertheless, the source which authorized Hegel’s claims is what 
renders them intellectually and forever suspect. He believed that 
history in 1807, with the advent of Napoleon and of himself, had 
come to an end and that affirmation was possible and nihilism con- 
quered. The Phenomenology y the Bible which was to have prophesied 
only the past, put a limit on time. In 1807 all sins were forgiven, and 
time had stopped. But history has continued. Other sins, since then, 



have been hurled in the face of the world and have revived the scandal 
of the former crime which German philosophy had already forgiven 
forever. The deification of Hegel by himself, after the deification of 
Napoleon who could henceforth be innocent since he had succeeded 
in stabilizing history, only lasted seven years. Instead of total 
affirmation, nihilism once more covered the face of the earth. 
Philosophy, even servile philosophy, has its Waterloos. 

But nothing can discourage the appetite for divinity in the heart of 
man. Others have come and are still to come who, forgetting 
Waterloo, still claim to terminate history. The divinity of man is still 
on the march, and will only be worthy of adoration at the end of time. 
This apocalypse must be promoted and despite the fact that there is 
no God, at least a Church must be built. After all, history, which has 
not yet come to an end, allows us a glimpse of a perspective that 
might even be that of the Hegelian system. When cholera carries off 
the philosopher of the battle of Jena at the height of his glory, every- 
thing is, in fact, prepared for what is to follow. The sky is empty, the 
earth delivered into the hands of power without principles. Those who 
have chosen to kill and those who have chosen slavery will suces- 
sively occupy the front of the stage, in the name of a form of rebellion 
which has been diverted from the path of truth. 

Individual Terrorism 

Pisarev, the theoretician of Russian nihihsm, declares that the 
greatest fanatics are children and adolescents. That is also true of 
nations. Russia, at this period, is an adolescent nation, which had 
been delivered with forceps, barely a century ago, by a Czar who was 
still ingenuous enough to cut off the heads of rebels himself. It is not 
astonishing that she should have pushed German ideology to extremes 
of sacrifice and destruction of which German professors had only 
been capable in their minds. Stendhal noticed an essential difference 
between Germans and other people in the fact that they are excited 
by meditation rather than soothed. That is true, but it is even more 
true of Russia. In that immature country, completely without philo- 
sophic tradition,* the youth enthusiastically embraced the concepts 
of German thought and incarnated the consequences in blood. A 
‘proletariat of undergraduates ’f then took the lead in the great 
movement of human emancipation and in doing so gave it its most 
violent aspect. Until the end of the nineteenth century these under- 
graduates never numbered more than a few thousand. However, 
entirely on their own, and in defiance of the most compact absolutism 
of the time, they claimed and actually did contribute to the liberation 
of forty million mujiks. Almost all of them paid for this liberation by 
suicide, execution, prison, or madness. The entire history of Russian 
terrorism can be summed up in the struggle of a handful of intellec- 
tuals to abolish tyranny, against a background of a silent populace. 
Their attenuated victory was finally betrayed. But by their sacrifice 
and even by their most extreme negations they gave substance to a 
new standard of values or a new virtue which, even today, has not 
ceased to oppose tyranny and to give aid to the cause of true hberation. 

The germanization of nineteenth-century Russia is not an 

* Pisarev remarks that civilization, in its ideological aspects, has always 
been imported into Russia. 

t Dostoyevsky. 



isolated phenomenon. The influence of German ideology at that mo- 
ment was preponderant, and we are well aware, for example that the 
nineteenth cenmry in France, with Michelet and Quinet, is the 
century of German thought. But, in Russia, this ideology did not 
encounter an already established system, while in France it had to 
contend and compromise with libertarian socialism. In Russia, it was 
on conquered territory. The first Russian university, the University 
of Moscow, founded in 1750, is German. The slow colonization of 
Russia by German teachers, bureaucrats, and soldiers, which began 
under Peter the Great, was transformed at the instance of Nicholas I 
into systematic germanization. The intelligentsia developed a passion 
for Schelling simultaneously with their passion for French writers in 
the eighteen-thirties, for Hegel in the eighteen-forties, and, in the 
second half of the century, for German socialism derived from 
Hegel. ^ Russian youth then proceeds to pour into these abstract 
thoughts the inordinate violence of its passions and authentically 
experiences these already moribund ideas. The religion of man 
already formulated by its German pastors was still missing its 
apostles and martyrs. Russian Christians, led astray from their 
original vocation, played this role. For this reason they had to accept 
life without transcendence and without virtue. 


In the eighteen-twenties, among the first Russian revolutionaries, the 
Decembrists, virtue still existed. Jacobin idealism had not yet been 
uprooted from the hearts of these gentlemen. They even practised 
conscious virtue: ‘Our fathers were sybarites, we are Catos,^ said one 
of them, Peter Viasemsky. To this he only adds the opinion, which 
will still be found in Bakunin and the revolutionary socialists of 1905, 
that suffering regenerates. T he Decembrists remind us of the French 
nobles who allied themselves with the third estate and renounced 
* Das Kapital was translated in 1872. 


their privileges. Patrician idealists deliberately chose to sacrifice 
themselves for the liberation of the people. Despite the fact that their 
leader, Pestel, was a political and social theorist, their abortive con- 
spiracy had no fixed programme; it is not even sure thaft they ever 
believed in the possibility of success. ‘Yes, we shall die,’ one of them 
said on the eve of the insurrection, ‘but it will be a fine death.’ It was, 
in fact, a fine death. In December 1825 the rebels, arranged in 
formation, were mown down by cannon fire in the square in front of 
the Senate at St Petersburg. The survivors were deported, but not 
before five had been hanged, and so clumsily that it had to be done 
twice. It was easy to understand why these ostensibly inefficacious 
victims have been venerated, with feelings of exaltation and horror, 
by all of revolutionary Russia. They were exemplary, if not effica- 
cious. They indicated, at the beginning of this chapter of revolu- 
tionary history, the ambitions and the greatness of what Hegel 
ironically called the beautiful soul in relation to which Russian 
revolutionary ideas were, nevertheless, to be defined. 

In this atmosphere of exaltation, German thought came to combat 
French influence and impose its prestige on minds tom between their 
desire for vengeance and justice and the realization of their impotent 
isolation. It was first received, extolled, and commented upon as 
though it were revelation itself. The best minds were inflamed with 
a passion for pliilosophy. They even went so far as to put Hegel’s 
Logic into verse. For the most part, Russian intellectuals at first 
inferred the justification of a form of social quietism. To be aware of 
the rationality of the world sufficed, the Spirit would realize itself, in 
any case, at the end of time. That is the first reaction of Stankevitch, 
Bakunin, and Bielinsky, for example. Then the Russian mind recoiled 
at this factual, if not intentional, complicity with absolutism and, 
immediately, jumped to the opposite extreme. 

Nothing is more revealing, in this respect, than the evolution of 
Bielinsky, one of the most remarkable and most influential minds 
of the eighteen-thirties and forties. Beginning with a background of 
rather vague libertarian idealism, Bielinsky suddenly discovers Hegel. 
In his room, at midnight, under the shock of revelation, he bursts into 



tears like Pascal, and casts the latter off without further ado: ‘Neither 
chance nor the absolute exist, I have made my adieux to the French.* 
At the same time he is still a conservative and a partisan of social 
quietism. He writes to that effect without a single hesitation and 
defends his position, as he perceives it, courageously. But this es- 
sentially kind-hearted man then sees himself allied with what is most 
detestable in this world - injustice. If everything is logical, then every- 
thing is justified. One must consent to the whip, to serfdom, to 
Siberia. To accept the world and its sufferings seemed to him, at one 
moment, the noble thing to do because he imagined that he would 
only have to bear his own sufferings and his own contradictions. But 
if it also implied consent to the sufferings of others, he suddenly 
discovered that he has not the heart to continue. He sets out again in 
the opposite direction. If one cannot accept the suffering of others, 
then something in the world cannot be justified and history, at one 
point at least, no longer coincides with reason. But reason must be 
altogether reasonable or it is not reason at all. Man’s solitary protest, 
quieted for a moment by the idea that everything can be justified, 
bursts forth again in vehement terms. Bielinsky addresses Hegel 
himself: ‘With all the esteem due to your philistine philosophy, I 
have the honour to inform you that even if I had the opportunity of 
climbing to the very top of the ladder of evolution, I should still ask 
you to account for all the victims of life and history. I do not want 
happiness, even gratuitous happiness, if my mind is not at rest con- 
cerning all my blood brothers,’ 

Bielinsky understood that what he wanted was not the absolute of 
reason but the fullness of life. He did not allow himself to identify it. 
He wants the immortality of the entire man, clothed in his living 
body, not the abstract immortality of the species become Spirit. He 
argues with equal passion against new adversaries, and draws, from 
this fierce inferior debate, conclusions which he owes to Hegel, but 
which he turns against him. 

These are the conclusions of individualism in revolt. The indivi- 
dual cannot accept history as it is. He must destroy reality, not 
collaborate with it, in order to affirm his own existence. ‘Negation is 



my god, as reality formerly was. My heroes are the destroyers of the 
past: Luther, Voltaire, the Enqrclopedists, the Terrorists, Byron in 
Cam.’ Thus we rediscover here, simultaneously, all the themes of 
metaphysical rebellion. Certainly, the French tradition of individua- 
listic socialism always remained alive in Russia. Saint-Simon and 
Fourier who were read in the eighteen-thirties and Proudhon, who 
was imported in the forties, inspired the great concepts of Herzen, 
and, very much later, those of Pierre Lavrov. But this system which 
remained attached to ethical values finally succumbed, provisionally 
at any rate, during its great debate with cynical thought. On the other 
hand, Bielinsky rediscovers both with and against Hegel the same 
tendencies to social individualism, but under the aspect of negation, 
in the rejection of transcendental values. When he dies, in 1848, his 
thought will, moreover, be very close to that of Herzen. But, when 
he confronts Hegel, he defines, with precision, an attitude which will 
be adopted by the nihihsts, and at least in part by the terrorists. Thus 
he furnishes a type of transition between the idealist aristocrats of 
1825 and the ‘nothing-ist’ students of i860. 


When Herzen, in making his apology for the nihilist movement - only 
to the extent, it is true, that he sees in it a still greater emancipation 
from ready-made ideas - writes: ‘The annihilation of the past is the 
procreation of the future’, he is using the language of Bielinsky. 
Kotiarevsky, speaking of the so-called radicals of the period, defined 
them as apostles ‘who thought that the past must be completely 
renounced and the human personality must be constructed to quite 
another plan’. The next step was the total rejection of history and the 
determination to construct the future, no longer with regard to the 
historic spirit, but so as to coincide with the man-king. But the man- 
kdng cannot raise himself to power imaided. He has need of others and 
therefore enters into a nihilist contradiction which Pisarev, Bakunin, 



and Nechayev will try to resolve while each slightly extends the area 
of destruction and negation, to the point where terrorism finally kills 
the contradiction itself, in a simultaneous act of sacrifice and murder. 

The nihilism of the eighteen-sixties began, apparently, by the 
most radical negation imaginable: the rejection of any action which 
was not purely egotistic. We know that the very term nihilism was 
invented by Turgenev in his novel Fathers and SonSy whose hero, 
Bazarov, was an exact portrayal of this type of man. Pisarev, when he 
wrote a review of this book, proclaimed that the nihilists recognized 
Bazarov as their model ... ‘we have nothing’, said Bazarov, ‘to 
boast about but the sterile knowledge of understanding, up to a 
certain point, the sterility of what exists.’ - Is that, he was asked, what 
is called nihilism ? ‘ Yes, that is what is called nihilism.’ Pisarev praises 
Bazarov’s attitude, which for the sake of clarity he defines thus: ‘I 
am a stranger to the order of existing things, I have nothing to do 
with it.’ Thus the only value resides in rational egoism. 

In denying ever3nhing that is not satisfaction of the self, Pisarev 
declares war on philosophy, on art which he considers absurd, on 
erroneous ethics, on religion, and even on customs and on good 
manners. He constructs a theory of intellectual terrorism which 
makes one think of the present-day surrealists. Provocation is made 
into a doctrine, but on a level of which Raskolnikov provides the per- 
fect example. At the height of this fine transport, Pisarev asks himself, 
without even laughing, whether he is justified in killing his own mother 
and answers : ‘And why not, if I want to do so, and if I find it useful ?’ 

From that point on, it is surprising not to find the nihilists engaged 
in making a fortune or acquiring a title or in cynically taking advan- 
tage of every opportunity that offers itself. It is true that there were 
nihilists to be found in advantageous positions on all levels of good 
society. But they did not construct a theory from their cynicism and 
preferred on all occasions to pay visible and quite inconsequential 
homage to virtue. As for those we are discussing, they contradicted 
themselves by the defiance they hurled in the face of society which, in 
itself, was the afiirmation of a value. They called themselves materia- 
lists ; their bedside book was Buchner’s Force and Matter. But one of 



them confessed: ‘Every one of us was ready to go to the scaffold and 
to give his head for Moleschott and Darwin’, thus putting doctrine 
well ahead of matter. Doctrine, taken seriously to this degree, has an 
air of religion and fanaticism. For Pisarev, Lamarck was a traitor 
because Darwin was right. Whoever in this intellectual sphere began 
talking about the immortality of the soul was immediately ex- 
communicated. Vladimir Veidle is therefore right when he defined 
nihilism as rationalist obscurantism. Reason among the nihilists, 
strangely enough, amiexed the prejudices of faith ; the least of the 
contradictions made by these individualists was not choosing for the 
prototype of reason the most common form of science-worship. 
They denied everything by the most debatable of values, the values 
of Flaubert’s Monsieur Homais. 

However, it was by choosing to make reason, in its most limited 
aspect, into an act of faith thaflEelifihilists provided their successors 
with a model. They believed in nothing but reason and self-interest. 
But instead of scepticism, they chose the apostolate and became 
socialists. Therein lies their basic contradiction. Like all adolescent 
minds they simultaneously experienced doubt and the need to believe. 
Their personal solution consists of endowing their negation with the 
intransigence and passion of faith. What after all is astonishing about 
that ? Veidle quotes the scornful phrase used by Soloviev, the philo- 
sopher, in denouncing this contradiction: ‘Man is descended from 
monkeys, therefore let us love one another.’ However, Pisarev’s 
truth is to be found in this dilemma. If man is the image of God then 
it does not matter that he is deprived of human love; the day will 
come when he will be satiated with it. But if he is a blind creature, 
wandering in the darkness of a cruel and circumscribed condition, 
he has need of his equals and of their ephemeral love. Where can 
charity take refuge, after all, if not in the world without god ? In the 
other, grace provides for all, even for the rich. Those who deny 
everything at least understand that negation is a calamity. They can 
then open their hearts to the misery of others and finally deny them- 
selves. Pisarev did not shrink from the idea of murdering his mother, 
and yet he managed to find the exact words to describe injustice. He 



wanted to enjoy life egoistically, but he suffered imprisonment and 
finally went mad. Such an ostentatious display of cynicism finally 
led btm to an understanding of love, to be exiled from it, and to suffer 
from it to the point of suicide, thus revealing, in place of the man-god 
he wanted to create, the unhappy, suffering old man whose greatness 
illuminates the pages of contemporary history. 

Bakunin embodies, but in a manner spectacular in a different way, 
the very same contradictions. He died on the eve of the terrorist 
epic.* Moreover, he rejected, in advance, individual outrages and 
denounced ‘the Brutuses of the period*. However, he had a certain 
respect for them since he reproached Herzen for having openly 
criticized Karakosov for his abortive attempt to assassinate Alexander 
II in 1866. This feeling of respect had its reasons. Bakunin influ- 
enced the course of events in the same manner as Bielinsky and the 
nihilists, and directed them into the channel of individual revolt. But 
he contributed something more: a germ of political cynicism which 
will congeal, with Nechayev, into a doctrine and will drive the 
revolutionary movement to extremes. 

Bakunin had hardly emerged from adolescence when he was over- 
whelmed and uprooted by Hegelian philosophy, as if by a gigantic 
earthquake. He buries himself in it day and night ‘to the point of 
madness’, he says, and adds, ‘I saw absolutely nothing but Hegel’s 
categories.’ When he emerges from this initiation, it is with the 
exaltation of a neophyte. ‘My personal self is dead forever, my life is 
the true life. It is in some way identified with the absolute life.’ He 
required very little time to see the dangers of that comfortable 
position. He who has understood reality does not rebel against it, but 
rejoices in it; in other words, he becomes a conformist. Nothing in 
Bakunin’s character predestined him to that watchdog philosophy. It 
is possible, also, that his travels in Germany, and the unfortunate 
opinion he formed of the Germans, may have ill-prepared him to 
agree with the aged Hegel, that the Prussian state was the privileged 
depositary of the final fruits of the mind. More Russian than the 
Czar himself, despite his dreams of universality, he could in no event 

* 1876. 



subscribe to the apology of Prussia when it was founded on a logic 
brash enough to assert that: ‘The will of other peoples has no 
rights for it is the people who represent the will (of the Spirit) who 
dominate the world/ In the eighteen-forties, moreover, Bakunin dis- 
covered French socialism and anarchism from which he appropriated 
a few tendencies. Bakunin rejects, with a magnificent gesture, any 
part of German ideology. He approached the absolute in the same 
way as he approached total destruction, with the same passionate 
emotion, and with the blind enthusiasm for the ‘All or Nothing* 
which we find in him, again in its purest form. 

After having extolled absolute Unity, Bakunin enthusiastically 
embraces the most elementary form of Manichaeism. What he wants, 
of course, is once and for all ‘ the universal and authentically demo- 
cratic Church of freedom*. That is his religion; it is the religion of his 
times. He is not sure, however, that his faith on this point has been 
perfect. In his Confession to Czar Nicholas I, he seems to be sincere 
when he says that he has never been able to believe in the final 
revolution ‘except with a supernatural and painful effort to stifle 
forcibly the interior voice which whispered to me that my hopes were 
absurd*. His theory of obligatory immorality is, on the other hand, 
much more firmly based and he is often to be seen plunging about in 
it with the ease and pleasure of a mettlesome horse. History is only 
governed by two principles, the State and social revolution, revolu- 
tion and counter-revolution, which can never be reconciled, and 
which are engaged in a death struggle. The State is the incarnation 
of crime. ‘ The smallest and most inoffensive State is still criminal in 
its dreams.* Therefore revolution is the incarnation of good. This 
struggle, which surpasses politics, is also the struggle of satanic 
principles against the divine principle. Bakunin explicitly reintro- 
duces one of the themes of romantic rebellion into rebellious action. 
Proudhon had already decreed that God is Evil and exclaimed: 
‘Come, Satan, victim of the calumnies of kings and of the petty- 
minded ! * Bakunin also gives a glimpse of the broader implications of 
an apparently political rebellion: ‘Evd is the satanic rebellion against 
divine authority, a rebellion in which we, nevertheless, see the fruit- 



ful seed of every form of human emancipation/ Like the Fraticellis of 
fourteenth-century Bohemia, revolutionary socialists today use this 
phrase as a password: ‘In the name of him to whom a great wrong 
has been done/ 

The struggle against creation will therefore be without mercy and 
without ethics, the only salvation lies in extermination. ‘The passion 
for destruction is a creative passion.* Bakunin’s burning words on the 
subject of the revolution of 1848 vehemently proclaim tliis pleasure 
ill destruction. ‘A feast without beginning and without end’, he says. 
In fact, for him as for all who are oppressed, the revolution is a feast, 
in the religious sense of the word. Here we are reminded of the French 
anarchist Coeurderoy who, in his book Hurrah^ or the Cossack 
Revolution^ summoned the hordes of the North to lay waste to the 
whole world. He also wanted to ‘apply the torch to my father’s 
house’ and proclaimed that the only hope lay in the deluge and 
human chaos. Pure rebellion is grasped, in these manifestations, in 
its biological truth. That is why Bakunin with exceptional perspica- 
city was the only one of his period to declare war on the concept of 
government by scientists. Against the claims of every abstract idea, 
he pleaded the cause of the complete man, completely identified with 
his rebellion. If he glorifies the brigand leader of the peasant rising, 
if he chooses to model himself on Stenka Razin and Pugachev, it is 
because these men fought, without either doctrine or principle, for 
the ideal of pure freedom, Bakunin introduces, into the midst of 
revolution, the naked principle of rebellion. . . . ‘The tempest and 
life, that is what we need. A new world, without laws, and conse- 
quently free.’ 

But is a world without laws a free world ? That is the question 
posed by any rebellion. If the question were to be asked of Bakunin, 
the answer would not be in doubt. Despite the fact that he was 
opposed in all circumstances, and with the most extreme lucidity, to 
authoritarian socialism, yet from the moment when he himself begins 
to define the society of the future, he does so - without being at all 
concerned about the contradiction - in terms of a dictatorship. The 
statutes of the International Fraternity (1864-7), which he edited 



himself, already establish the absolute subordination of the individual 
to the central committee, during the period of action. It is the same 
for the period which will follow the revolution. He hopes to see in 
liberated Russia ‘a strong dictatorial power ... a power supported by 
partisans, enlightened by their advice, fortified by their free colla- 
boration, but which would be limited by nothing and by no one\ 
Bakunin contributed as much as his enemy Marx to Leninist 
doctrine. The dream of the revolutionary Slav empire, moreover, as 
Bakunin conjures it up before the Czar, is exactly the same, down to 
the last detail of its frontiers, as that realized by Stalin. Coming from 
a man who was wise enough to say that the essential driving-force of 
Czarist Russia was fear and who rejected the Marxist theory of part 
dictatorship, these conceptions may seem contradictory. But this 
contradiction demonstrates that the origins of authoritarian doctrines 
arc partially nihihstic. Pisarev justifies Bakunin. Certainly, the latter 
wanted total freedom: but he hoped to reahze it through total des- 
truction. To destroy everything is to pledge oneself to building with- 
out foundations, and then to supporting the walls with one’s arms. 
He who rejects the entire past, without keeping any part of it which 
could serve to breathe life into the revolution, condemns himself to 
finding justification only in the future and, in the meantime, to 
entrusting the police with the task of justifying the provisional state 
of affairs. Bakunin proclaims dictatorship, not despite his desire for 
destruction, but in accordance with it. Nothing, in fact, could turn 
him from this path since his ethical values had already been dis- 
solved in the crucible of total negation. In his openly obsequious 
Confession to the Czar, which he wrote in order to gain his freedom, 
he spectacularly introduces the double game into revolutionary 
politics. With his Catechism of a Revolutionary^ which he probably 
drafted in Switzerland, with the help of Nechayev, he voices, even 
though he denies it later, the political cynicism which will never cease 
to weigh on the revolutionary movement and which Nechayev him- 
self has so provocatively illustrated. 

A less well-known figure than Bakunin, still more mysterious, but 
more significant for our purpose, Nechayev pushed nihilism to the 



farthest coherent point. His thought presents practically no contra- 
diction. He appeared, about i860, in revolutionary intellectual circles, 
and died, obsctirely, in January 1882. In this short space of time he 
never ceased to suborn the students around him, Bakunin himself, 
the revolutionary refugees, and finally the guards in his prison whom 
he succeeded in persuading to take part in a crazy conspiracy. When 
he first appears, he is already quite sure of what he thinks. If Bakunin 
w as fascinated by him to the point of consenting to entrust him with 
imaginary authority, it is because he recognized in that implacable 
figure the type of human being that he recommended and what he 
himself, in a certain manner, would have been if he had been able to 
silence his heart. Nechayev was not content with saying that one must 
unite with ‘ the savage world of bandits, the true and unique revolu- 
tionary environment of Russia’, nor to write once more, like Bakunin, 
that henceforth politics would be religion and religion politics. He 
made himself the cruel high-priest of a desperate revolution; his 
most recurrent dream was to found a homicidal order which would 
permit him to propagate and finally enthrone the sinister divinity 
that he had decided to serve. 

He did not only give dissertations on universal destruction, his 
originality lay in coldly claiming, for those who dedicate themselves 
to the revolution, an ‘All is permitted’ and in permitting liimself 
everything in fact. ‘The revolutionary is a man condemned in 
advance. He must have neither romantic relationsliips nor object to 
engage his feelings. He should even cast off his own name. Every part 
of him should be concentrated in one single passion: the revolution.’ 
If history is, in fact, independent of all principles and comprised only 
of a struggle between revolution and counter-revolution, there is no 
other way out but to espouse wholeheartedly one of the two, and 
either die or be resurreaed. Nechayev pursues this logic to the bitter 
end. For the first time, with him, revolution is going to be explicitly 
separated from love and friendship. 

The consequences of arbitrary psychology transposed by Hegel’s 
method can be seen for the first time in Nechayev. Hegel had allowed 
that the mutual recognition of minds could be accomplished in love. 



However, he would not give a place in the foreground of his analysis 
to this ‘phenomenon* which, according to him, he found ‘had not the 
strength, the patience, nor the application of the negative*. He had 
chosen to demonstrate consciousness in blind combat, dimly groping 
on the sands, like crabs which finally come to grips in a fight to the 
death, and voluntarily abandoned the equally legitimate image of 
beams of light painfully searching for each other in the night and 
finally focusing together in a blaze of illumination. Those who love, 
friends or lovers, know that love is not only a blinding flash, but also a 
long and painful struggle in the darkness for the realization of defini- 
tive recognition and reconciliation. After all, if history is endowed 
with virtue to the extent that it gives proof of patience, real love is as 
patient as hatred. Moreover, the demand for justice is not the only 
justification throughout the centuries for revolutionary enthusiasms 
which are also supported by a painful insistence on universal friend- 
ship, even - and above all-in defiance of an inimical heaven. Those 
who die for justice, throughout history, have always been called 
‘brothers’. Violence, for every one of them, is directed only against 
the enemy, in the service of the community of the oppressed. But if 
the revolution is the only positive value, it has a right to claim every- 
thing - even the denunciation and therefore the sacrifice of the friend. 
Henceforth, violence will be directed against one and all, in the 
service of an abstract idea. The accession to power of the possessed 
had to take place so that it could be said, once and for all, that the 
revolution, in itself, was more important than the people it wanted to 
save and that friendship, which until then had transformed defeats 
into the semblance of victories, must be sacrificed and postponed 
until the still invisible day of viaory. 

Nechayev’s originality thus lies in justifying the violence done to 
one’s brothers. He decided, with Bakunin, on the terms of the Cate- 
chism, But once the latter, in a fit of mental aberration, had given him 
the mission of representing in Russia a European Revolutionary 
Union which existed only in his imagination, Nechayev in effect 
took over Russia, founded his Society of the Axe and himself defined 
its regulations. There we find again the secret central committee, 



necessary no doubt to any military or political action, to whom 
everyone must swear absolute allegiance. But Nechayev does more 
than militarize the revolution from the moment when he admits that 
the leaders, in order to govern their subordinates, have the right to 
employ violence and lies. Nechayev lies, to begin with, when he 
claims to be a delegate of a central committee which is still non- 
existent and when, to enlist certain sceptics in the action tliat he 
proposed to undertake, he describes the committee as disposing of 
unlimited resources. He goes still farther by distinguishing between 
categories of revolutionaries, with those of the first category (by 
which he means the leaders) reserving the right to consider the rest 
as ‘expendable capital*. All the leaders in history may have thought in 
these terms but they never said so. Until Nechayev, at any rate, no 
revolutionary leader had dared to make this the guiding principle of 
his conduct. Up to his time no revolution had put at the head of its 
table of laws the concept that man could be a chattel. Traditionally, 
recruiting relied on its appeal to courage and to the spirit of self- 
sacrifice. Nechayev decided that the sceptics could be terrorized or 
blackmailed and the believers deceived. Even pseudo revolutionaries 
could still be used, if they were urged on systematically to perform 
the most dangerous deeds. As for the oppressed, since they were 
going to be saved once and for all, they could be oppressed still 
more. What they would lose, the oppressed of the future would gain. 
Nechayev states, in principle, that governments must be driven to 
take repressive measures, that the official representatives most hated 
by the population must never be touched and that finally the secret 
society must employ all its resources to increase the suffering and 
misery of the masses. 

Although these beautiful thoughts have realized their full meaning 
today, Nechayev did not live to see the triumph of his principles. He 
tried to apply them, at all events, at the time of the student Ivanov’s 
murder, which so struck the popular imagination of the time that 
Dostoyevsky made it one of the themes of The Possessed. Ivanov, 
whose only fault seems to have been that he had doubts about the 
central committee of which Nechayev claimed to be a delegate, was 


considered an enemy of the revolution because he was opposed to the 
man who was identified with the revolution. Therefore he must die. 
‘What right have we to take a man’s life?’ asks Ouspensky, one of 
Nechayev’s comrades - Tt is not a question of right, but of our duty to 
eliminate everything that may harm our cause.’ When revolution is 
the sole value, there are, in fact, no more rights, there are only duties. 
But by an immediate inversion, every right is assumed in the name of 
duty. For the sake of the cause, Nechayev, who has never made an 
attempt on the life of any tyrant, ambushes and kills Ivanov. Then he 
leaves Russia and returns to Bakunin who turns his back on him and 
condemns his ‘repugnant tactics’. ‘One has gradually come’, writes 
Bakunin, ‘to the conclusion that to found an indestructible society it 
must be based on the politics of Machiavelli and the methods of the 
Jesuits: for the body, only violence; for the soul, deception.’ That is 
well said. But in the name of what value is it possible to decide that 
this ‘ tactic is repugnant ’ if the revolution, as Bakunin believed, is the 
only good ? Nechayev is really in the service of the revolution ; it is 
not his own ends that he serves, but the cause. Extradited, he yields 
not an inch to his judges. Condemned to twenty-five years in gaol, 
he still reigns over the prisons, organizes the gaolers into a secret 
society, plans the assassination of the Czar, and is again brought up 
for trial. Death in the dungeon of a fortress, after twelve years’ con- 
finement, brings an end to the life of this rebel who is the first of the 
contemptuous aristocrats of the revolution. 

At this period, in the bosom of the revolution, everything is really 
permitted and murder can be elevated into a principle. It was 
thought, however, with the renewal of populism in 1870, that this 
revolutionary movement, sprung from the ethical and religious 
tendencies to be found in the Decembrists, and in the socialism of 
Lavrov and Herzen, would put a check on the evolution towards 
political cynicism that Nechayev had illustrated. This movement 
appealed to ‘living souls’, prompted them to turn to the people and 
educate them so that they would march forward to their own Libera- 
tion. ‘Repentant noblemen’ left: their families, dressed like the poor, 
and went into the villages to preach to the peasants. But the peasants 



were suspicious and held their peace. When they did not hold their 
peace, they denounced the aposde to the police. This check to the 
beautiful souls had the result of throwing back the movement on the 
cynicism of a Nechayev or, at any rate, on violence. In so far as 
the intelligentsia was unable to reclaim the allegiance of the people, it 
felt itself once more face to face alone with autocracy; once more the 
world appeared to it in the aspect of master and slave. The group 
known as The Will of the People therefore elevates individual terrorism 
into a principle and inaugurates the series of murders which con- 
tinued until 1905 with the revolutionary socialist party. This is the 
point at which the terrorists are bom, disillusioned with love, united 
against the crimes of their masters, but alone in their despair, and 
face to face with their contradictions which they can only resolve in 
the double sacrifice of their innocence and their life. 


In the year 1878, Russian terrorism was born. A very young girl, Vera 
Zassulich, on the day following the trial of one hundred and eighty- 
three Populists, the twenty-fourth of January, shot down General 
Trepov, the governor of St Petersburg. At her trial she was acquitted 
and then succeeded in escaping the police of the Czar. This revolver 
shot launched a whole series of repressive actions and attempted 
assassinations, which kept pace with one another and which, it was 
already apparent, could only be terminated by mutual exhaustion. 

The same year a member of The Will of the People^ Kravychinsky 
stated the principles of terror in liis pamphlet Death for Death, Con- 
sequences always follow principles. In Europe, the Emperor of 
Germany, the King of Italy, the King of Spain, were victims of 
assassins. Again in 1878, Alexander II created, in the shape of the 
Okhrana, the most efficient weapon of State terrorism the world has 
ever seen. From then on, the nineteenth century abounds in murders, 
both in Russia and in the West. In 1879 another King of Spain is 



assassinated and there is an abortive attempt on the life of the Czar, 
In i88i the Czar is murdered by terrorist members of The Will of the 
People, Sofia Perovskaya, Jeliabov, and their friends are hanged. In 
1883 takes place the assassination of the Emperor of Germany, whose 
murderer is beheaded with an axe. In 1887 there are the executions 
of the Chicago martyrs and the congress of Spanish anarchists at 
Valencia where they issue the terrorist proclamation: ‘ If society does 
not capitulate, vice and evil must perish, even if we must all perish 
with them.’ In France, the eighteen-nineties mark the culminating 
point of what is called propaganda by action. The exploits of Rava- 
chol, Vaillant, and Henry are the prelude to Carnot’s assassination. 
In the year 1892 alone there were more than a thousand dynamite 
outrages in Europe, and in America almost five hundred. In 1898 
the Empress Elisabeth of Austria was murdered. In 1901 the Presi- 
dent of the United States, Mackinley, was assassinated. In Russia, 
where the series of attempts against the lives of minor representatives 
of the regime had not ceased, the Organization for Combat of the 
Revolutionary Socialist party came into being in 1903 and brought 
together the most outstanding personalities of Russian terrorism. 
The murders of Plehve by Sazanov and of the Grand Duke Sergei by 
Kaliayev, in 1905, mark the culminating point of the thirty years’ 
apostolate of blood and terminate, for revolutionary religion, the age 
of martyrs. 

Nihilism, intimately involved with a frustrated religious move- 
ment, thus culminates in terrorism. In the universe of total negation, 
these young disciples try, with bombs, revolvers, and also with the 
courage with which they walk to the gallows, to escape from the 
contradiction and to create the values they lack. Until their time, 
men died for what they knew, or for what they thought they knew. 
From their time on, it became the rather more difficult habit to 
sacrifice oneself for something about which one knew nothing, except 
that it was necessary to die for whatever it was. Until then, those who 
had to die put themselves in the hand of God in defiance of the jus- 
tice of man. But on reading the declarations of the condemned 
victims of that period, we are amazed to see that all, without excep- 



tion, entrusted themselves, in defiance of their judges, to the justice 
of other men who were not yet bom. These men of the future re- 
mained, in the absence of supreme values, their last recourse. The 
future is the only transcendental value for men without God. The 
terrorists undoubtedly want first of all to destroy ~ to make absolutism 
totter imder the shock of exploding bombs. But by their death, at any 
rate, they aim at recreating a community founded on love and justice, 
and thus to resume a mission which the Church has betrayed. The 
terrorists’ real mission is to create a Church from whence will one day 
spring the new God. But is that all ? If their voluntary assumption of 
guilt and death gave rise to nothing but the promise of a value still to 
come, the history of the world today would justify us in saying, for the 
moment at any rate, that they have died in vain and that they never 
have ceased to be nihilists. A value to come is, moreover, a contra- 
diction in terms, since it can neither explain an action nor furnish a 
principle of choice as long as it has not been formulated. But the 
men of 1905, tortured by contradictions, really did give birth, by 
their very negation and death, to a value which will henceforth be 
imperative and which they brought to light in the belief that they 
were only announcing its advent. They ostensibly placed, above 
themselves and their executioners, that supreme and painful good 
which we have already found at the origins of rebellion. Let us stop 
and consider this value, at the moment when the spirit of rebellion 
encounters, for the last time in our history, the spirit of compassion. 

‘How can we speak of terrorist activity without taking part in it ?’ 
exclaims the student Kaliayev. His companions, united ever since 
1903, in the Organization for Combat of the Revolutionary Socialist 
party, under the direction of Azef and later of Boris Savinkov, all live 
up to the standard of this admirable statement. They are men of the 
highest principles: the last, in the history of rebellion, to refuse no 
part of their condition or their drama. If their lives were dedicated to 
the terror, ‘if they had faith in it,’ as Pokotilov says, they never 
ceased to be tom asunder by it. History offers few examples of 
fanatics who have suffered from scruples, even in action. But the 
men of 1905 were always prey to doubts. The greatest homage we 



can pay them is to say that we would not be able, in 1950, to ask them 
one question which they themselves had not already asked and which, 
in their life, or by their death, they had not partially answered. 

However, they quickly passed into the realms of history. When 
Kaliayev, for example, in 1903, decided to take part with Savinkov in 
terrorist activity, he was twenty-six years old. Two years later the 
‘Poet’, as he was called, was hanged. It was a short career. But to 
anyone who examines, with a little feeling, the history of that period, 
Kaliayev, in his breathtaking career, displays the most significant 
aspect of terrorism. Sazonov, Schweitzer, Pokotilov, Voinarovsky, 
and most of the other anarchists likewise burst upon the scene of 
Russian history and poised there for a moment, dedicated to des- 
truction, as the swift and unforgettable witnesses to a more and more 
agonized protest. 

Almost all are atheists. T remember’, wrote Boris Voinarovsky, 
who died in throwing a bomb at Admiral Dubassov, ‘that, before 
even going to high-school, I preached atheism to one of my childhood 
friends. Only one question embarrasses me. Where did my ideas 
come from ? For I had not the least conception of eternity.’ Kaliayev, 
himself, believed in God. A few moments before an attempted 
assassination which failed, Savinkov saw him in the street, standing 
in front of an ikon, holding the bomb in one hand and making the 
sign of the cross with the other. But he repudiated religion. In his 
cell, before his execution, he refused its consolations. 

Secrecy compelled them to live in solitude. They did not know, 
except perhaps in the abstract, the profound joy experienced by the 
man of action in contact with a large section of humanity. But the 
bond that unites them replaces every other attachment in their minds. 
‘Chivalry’, writes Sazonov, ‘our chivalry was permeated with such 
a degree of feeling that the word “brother” in no way conveyed, 
with sufficient clarity, the essence of our relations with one another.’ 
From prison, Sazonov writes to his friends : ‘ For my part, the indis- 
pensable condition of happiness is to keep forever the knowledge of 
my perfect solidarity with you.’ As for Voinarovsky, he confesses 
that he said, to a woman whom he loved and who wished to detain 



him, the following phrase which he recognizes as ‘slightly comic’ but 
which, according to him, proves his state of mind: ‘ I should hate you 
if I arrived late for my comrades.’ 

This little group of men and women, lost among the Russian 
masses, bound only to one another, chose the role of executioner to 
which they were in no way destined. They lived in the same paradox, 
combining in themselves respect for human life in general and con- 
tempt for their own lives - to the point of nostalgia for the supreme 
sacrifice. For Dora Brilliant, the anarchist programme was of no 
importance - terrorist action was primarily embellished by the 
sacrifice it demanded from the terrorist. ‘But’, says Savinkov, ‘terror 
weighed on her like a cross.* Kaliaycv himself is ready to sacrifice his 
life at any moment. ‘Even better than that, he passionately desired to 
make this sacrifice.’ During the preparations for the attempt on 
Plehve, he stated his intention of throwing himself under the horses’ 
hooves and perishing with the minister. With Voinarovsky also the 
desire for sacrifice coincides with the attraction of death. After his 
arrest, he writes to his parents : ‘ How many times during my adoles- 
cence the idea came to me to kill myself. . . 

At the same time, these executioners who risked their own lives so 
completely, only made attempts on the lives of others after the most 
scrupulous examination of conscience. The first attempt on the Grand 
Duke Sergei failed because Kaliayev, with the full approval of his 
comrades, refused to kill the children who were riding in the Grand 
Duke’s carriage. About Rachel Lourice, another terrorist, Savinkov 
writes: ‘She had faith in Terrorist action, she considered it as 
honour and a duty to take part in it, but blood upset her no less than 
it did Dora.’ Savinkov was opposed to an attempt on Admiral 
Dubassov in the Petersburg-Moscow express because: ‘ If there were 
the least mistake, the explosion could take place in the carriage and 
kill strangers.’ Later Savinkov, ‘in the name of terrorist conscience’, 
will deny, with indignation, having made a ehild of sixteen take part 
in an attempted assassination. At the moment of escaping from a 
Czarist prison, he decided to shoot any officers who might attempt to 
prevent his ffight, but to kill himself rather than turn his revolver on 



an ordinary soldier. It is the same with Voinarovsky, who does not 
hesitate to kill men but who confesses that he had never hunted in 
that he finds ‘ the occupation barbarous * and who declares in his turn : 
‘ If Dubassov is accompanied by his wife, I shall not throw the bomb.* 
^ Such a degree of self-abnegation, accompanied by such profound 
consideration for the lives of others, allows the supposition that these 
fastidious assassins lived out the rebel destiny in its most contradic- 
tory form. It is possible to believe that they too, while recognizing 
the inevitability of violence, nevertheless admitted to themselves that 
it is unjustifiable. N ecessary and inexcus able, that is how murder 
appeared to them. Mediocre minds, confronted with this terrible 
problem, can take refuge by ignoring one of the terms of the dilemma. 
They are content, in the name of formal principles, to find all direct 
violence inexcusable and then to sanction that diffuse form of violence 
which takes place on the scale of world history. Or they will console 
themselves, in the name of history, with the thought that violence is 
necessary and will add murder to murder, to the point of making of 
history nothing but a continuous violation of everything, in man, 
which protests against injustice. This de fines the two aspects of con- 
temporary nihihsm, the bourgeois ^dtEe revolutionary. 

But the ei^eimsts, with whom we are concerned, forgot nothing. 
From their earliest days they were incapable of justifying what they 
nevertheless found necessary and conceived the idea of offering 
themselves as a justification and of replying by personal sacrifice to 
the question they asked themselves. For them, as for all rebels before 
them, murder was identified with suicide. A life is paid for by another 
life, and from these two sacrifices springs the promise of a value. 
Kaliayev, Voinarovsky, and the others believe in the equal value of 
human lives. Therefore they do not value any idea above human life, 
although they kill for the sake of ideas. To be precise, they live on the 
plane of their idea. They justify it, finally, by incarnating it to the 
point of death. We are again confronted with a concept of rebellion 
which, if not religious, is at least metaphysical. Other men to come 
consumed with the same devouring faith as these, will find their 
methods sentimental and refuse to admit that any one life is 



equivalent of another. They will then put an abstract idea above 
human life, even if they call it history, to which they themselves 
have submitted in advance and to which they will decide, quite 
arbitrarily, to submit everyone else as well. The problem of rebellion 
will no longer be resolved by arithmetic, but by estimating probabili- 
ties. Confronted with the possibility that the idea may be realized in 
the future, human life can be ever5rthing or nothing. The greater the 
faith that the estimate places in this final realization, the less the value 
of human life. At the ultimate limit, it is no longer worth anything 
at all. 

We shall have occasion to examine this limit, by which we mean 
the period of State terrorism and of the philosophical executioners. 
But, meanwhile, the rebels of 1905, at the frontier on which they 
stand united, teach us, to the sound of exploding bombs, that rebel- 
lion cannot lead, without ceasing to be rebellion, to consolation and 
to the comforts of dogma. Their only apparent victory is to triumph, 
at least over solitude and negation. In the midst of a world which 
they deny and which rejects them, they try, one after another, like 
all courageous men, to reconstruct a brotherhood of man. The love 
they bear for one another which brings them happiness even in the 
desert of a prison, which extends to the great mass of their enslaved 
and silent fellow-men, gives the measure of their distress and of their 
hopes. To realize this love, they must first kill; to inaugurate the 
reign of innocence, they must accept a certain degree of culpability. 
This contradiction will only be resolved for them at the very last 
moment. Solitude and chivalry, renunciation and hope will only be 
surmounted by the willing acceptance of death. Already Jeliabov, 
who organized the attempt on Alexander II in 1881 and was arrested 
forty-eight hours before the murder, had asked to be executed at the 
same time as the real perpetrator of the attempt. ‘ Only the cowardice 
of the government’, he said, ‘could account for the erection of one 
gallows instead of two.’ Five were erected, one of which was for a 
woman he loved. But Jeliabov died smiling, while Ryssakov, who 
had broken down during his interrogations, was dragged to the 
scaffold, half-mad with fear. 



Jeliabov did this because of a sort of guilt which he did not want 
to accept and from which he knew he would suffer, like Ryssakov, if 
he remained alone after having committed or been the cause of a 
murder. At the foot of the gallows, Sofia Perovskaya kissed the man 
she loved and two other friends, but turned her back on Ryssakov, 
who died sohtary and damned by the new rehgion. For Jeliabov, 
death in the midst of his comrades coincided with his justification. 
He who kills is only guilty if he consents to go on living or if, to 
remain ahve, he betrays his comrades. To die, however, cancels out 
both the guilt and the crime itself. Thus Charlotte Corday shouts at 
Fouquier-Tinville: ‘Oh the monster, he takes me for an assassin!’ 
It is the agonizing and fugitive discovery of a human value which 
stands half-way between innocence and guilt, between reason and 
irrationality, between history and eternity. At the moment of this 
discovery, but only then, these desperate people experienced a strange 
feeling of peace, the peace of final victory. In his cell, Polivanov says 
that it would have been ‘easy and sweet’ for him to die. Voinarovsky 
writes that he has conquered the fear of death. ‘Without a single 
muscle in my face twitching, without saying a word, I shall climb on 
the scaffold . . . And this will not be an act of violence perpetrated on 
myself, it will be the perfectly natural result of all that I have lived 
through.’ Very much later. Lieutenant Schmidt will write before 
being shot: ‘My death will consummate everything and my cause, 
crowned by my death, will emerge irreproachable and perfect.’ And 
Kahayev, condemned to the gallows after having played prosecutor 
to the tribunal, declares firmly: ‘I consider my death as a supreme 
protest against a world of blood and tears,’ and again writes : ‘ From 
the moment when I found myself behind bars, I never for one mo- 
ment wanted to stay alive in any way whatsoever.’ His wish is 
granted. On lo May, at two o’clock in the morning, he walks towards 
the only justification he recognizes. Entirely dressed in black, without 
an overcoat, and wearing a felt hat, he climbs the scaffold. To Father 
Florinsky, who offers him the crucifix, the condemned man, turning 
his face from the figure of Christ, only answers : ‘ I already told you 
that I have finished with life and that I am prepared for death.’ 



The ancient value lives once more, at the culmination of nihilism 
and at the very foot of the gallows. It is the reflection, historic on this 
occasion, of the ‘we are’ which we found at the termination of our 
analysis of the rebel mind. It is privation and at the same time en- 
lightened conviction. It is this that shone with such mortal radiance 
on the astonished countenance of Dora Brilliant at the thought of he 
who died for himself and for eternal friendship; it is this that drives 
Sazonov to suicide in prison as a protest and ‘to earn respect for his 
comrades’; and this, again, which exonerates Nechayev on the day 
when he is asked to denounce his comrades by a general whom he 
knocks to the ground with a single blow. By means of this, the ter- ^ 
rorists, while simultaneously affirming the world of men, place them- 
selves above this world, thus demonstrating for the last time in our 
history that real rebellion is a creator of values. 

Thanks to them, 1905 marks the highest peak of revolutionary 
momentum. But from then on a decline sets in. Martyrs do not build 
churches ; they are the mortar, or the alibi. They are followed by the 
priests and bigots. The revolutionaries to come will not demand an 
exchange of lives. They will consent to risk death, but will also agree 
to preserve themselves as far as they can for the sake of serving the 
revolution. Thus they will accept for themselves the whole burden of 
guilt. The acceptance or humiliation - that is the true characteristic 
of twentieth-century revolutionaries, who place the revolution and 
the Church of man above themselves. Kaliayev proves, on the con- 
trary, that though the revolution is a necessary means, it is not a 
sufficient end. In this way he elevates man instead of degrading him. 
It is Kaliayev and his Russian and German comrades who, in the 
history of the world, really oppose Hegel^ who first recognizes uni- 
versal recognition as necessary and then as insufficient. Appearances 
did not suffice for him. If the entire world had been willing to 
acknowledge and recognize him, a doubt would still have remained 
in Kaliayev’s mind : he needed approval, and the approbation of the 

* Two very different species of men. One kills only once and pays with his 
life. The other justifies thousands of crimes and consents to be rewarded with 


whole world would not have sufficed to silence the doubt which even 
a hundred enthusiastic acclamations give rise to in the mind of any 
honest man. Kaliayev doubted to the bitter end, but this doubt did 
not prevent him from acting; it is for that reason that he is the purest 
image of rebellion. He who accepts to die, to pay for a life with a life, 
no matter what his negations may be, affirms, by doing so, a value 
which surpasses him in his aspect of an individual in the historic 
sense. Kaliayev dedicates himself to history until death and, at the 
moment of dying, places himself above history. In a certain way, it is 
true, he prefers himself to history. But what should his preference 
be ? Himself, whom he kills without hesitation, or the value which he 
incarnates and makes immortal ? The answer is not difficult to guess. 
Kaliayev and his comrades triumphed over nihilism. 


But this triumph is to be short-lived: it coincides with death. 
Nihilism, provisionally, survives its victors. In the very bosom of the 
Revolutionary Socialist party, political cynicism continues to wend 
its way to victory. The party leader who sends Kaliayev to his death, 
Azev, plays a double game and denounces the revolutionaries to the 
Okhrana while planning the deaths of ministers and Grand Dukes. 
The concept of provocation reinstates the ‘all is permitted’ and again 
identifies history and absolute values. This particular form of nihil- 
ism, after having influenced individualistic socialism, goes on to 
contaminate so-called scientific socialism which appears in Russia 
during the eighteen-eighties. The joint legacy of Nechayev and Marx 
will give birth to the totalitarian revolution of the twentieth century. 
While individual terrorism hunted down the last representatives of 
divine right. State terrorism was getting ready to destroy divine right 
definitively, at the very root of human society. The technique of the 
seizure of power for the realization of ultimate ends takes the first 
step towards the exemplary affirmation of these ends. 



Lenin, in fact, borrows from Tkachev, a comrade and spiritual 
brother of Nechayev, a concept of the seizure of power that he found 
‘majestic’ and which he himself recapitulated thus : ‘absolute secrecy, 
meticulous care in the choice of members, creation of professional 
revolutionaries’. Tka^ev, who died insane, makes the transition 
from nihilism to militant socialism. He claimed to have created a 
Russian Jacobinism and yet only borrowed from the Jacobins their 
technique of action since he, too, denied every principle and every 
virtue. An enemy of art and ethics, he only reconciles the rational and 
the irrational in tactics. His aim is to achieve human equality by 
seizure of the power of the State. Secret organizations, revolutionary 
alliances, dictatorial powers for revolutionary leaders, these were the 
themes that defined the concept, if not the realization, of ‘the 
apparatus’ which was to enjoy so great and efficacious a success. As 
for the method itself, it is possible to form a fair idea of it when one 
learns that Tkachev proposed to suppress and eliminate all Russians 
over the age of twenty-five, as incapable of assimilating the new ideas. 
A really inspired method, and one which was to prevail in the tech- 
niques of the modern super-State, where the fanatical education of 
children is carried on in the midst of a terrorized adult population. 
Caesarian Socialism undoubtedly condemns individual terrorism to 
the extent that it revives values incompatible with the predominance 
of historic reason. But it will restore terror on the level of the State - 
with the creation of an ultimate divine humanity as its sole justification. 

We have come full circle here and rebellion, cut off from its real 
roots, unfaithful to man in having surrendered to history, now con- 
templates the subjection of the entire universe. It is at this point that 
era of Chigalevism begins - proclaimed, in The Possessed^ by Verk- 
hovensky the nihilist who claims the right to choose dishonour. His is 
an unhappy and implacable mind and he chooses the will to power 
which, in fact, alone is capable of reigning over a history which has 
no other significance but itself. Chigalev, the philanthropist, is his 
guarantor; love of mankind will, henceforth, justify the enslavement 
of man. Possessed by the idea of equality, Chigalev, after long con- 
sideration, arrived at the despairing conclusion that only one system 



is possible even though it is a system of despair. ‘Beginning with the 
pren:iise of unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism.* 
Complete freedom, which is the negation of everything, can only exist 
and justify itself by the creation of new values identified with the 
entire human race. If the creation of these values is postponed, 
humanity will tear itself to pieces. The shortest route to these new 
standards passes by way of total dictatorship. ‘One-tenth of hu- 
manity will have the right to individuality and will exercise unlimited 
autliority over the other nine-tenths. The latter will lose their 
individuality and will become like a flock of sheep; compelled to 
passive obedience, they will be led back to original innocence and, so 
to speak, to the primitive paradise where, nevertheless, they must 
work.* It is the government by philosophers of which the Utopians 
dream; philosophers of this type, quite simply, believe in nothing. 
The Kingdom has come, but it negates real rebellion, and is only 
concerned with the reign of ‘ the Christs of Violence ’ - to use the 
expression of an enthusiastic writer extolling the life and death of 
Ravachol. ‘The Pope on high’, says Verkhovensky bitterly, ‘with us 
around him, and beneath us Chigalevism.’ 

The totalitarian theocrats of the twentieth century and State 
terrorism are thus announced. The new aristocracy and the Grand 
Inquisitors reign today, by making use of the rebellion of the op- 
pressed, over one part of our history. Their reign is cruel, but they 
excuse their cruelty, like the Satan of the romantics, by claiming that 
it is hard for them to bear. ‘ We reserve desire and suffering for our- 
selves, for the slaves there is Chigalevism.’ A new and somewhat 
hideous race of martyrs is now born. Their martyrdom consists of 
consenting to inflict suffering on others; they become the slaves of 
their own domination. For man to become god, the victim must bow 
down before the executioner. That is why both victim and executioner 
are equally despairing. Neither slavery nor power will any longer 
coincide with happiness, the masters will be morose and the slaves 
sullen. Saint- Just was right - it is a terrible thing to torment the 
people. But how can one avoid tormenting men, if one has decided 
to make them gods? Just as Kirilov, who kills himself in order to 



become God, accepts seeing his suicide made use of by Verkhoven- 
sky’s ‘conspiracy’, so man’s deification by man breaks the bounds 
which rebellion, despite everything, reveals and thereby irrevocably 
commits itself to the labyrinth of tactics and terror from which 
history has not yet emerged. 

State Terrorism and Irrational Terror 

All modem revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power 
of the State. Seventeen eighty-nine brings Napoleon; 1848 Napoleon 
III ; 1917 Stalin; the Italian disturbances of the twenties, Mussolini; 
the Weimar Republic, Hitler. These revolutions, particularly after 
the First World War had liquidated the vestiges of divine right, still 
proposed, with increasing audacity, to build the city of humanity and 
of authentic freedom. The growing omnipotence of the State sanc- 
tioned this ambition on every occasion. It would be erroneous to say 
that this was bound to happen. But it is possible to examine how it 
did happen; and perhaps the lesson will automatically follow. 

Apart from a few explanations which are not the subject of this 
essay, the strange and terrifying growth of the modem State can be 
considered as the logical conclusion of inordinate technical and 
philosophical ambitions, foreign to the true spirit of rebellion, but 
which, nevertheless, gave birth to the revolutionary spirit of our time. 
The prophetic dream of Marx and the over-inspired predictions of 
Hegel or of Nietzsche ended by conjuring up, after the city of God 
had been razed to the ground, either a rational or an irrational State, 
but one which in both cases was founded on terror. 

In actual faa, the Fascist revolutions of the twentieth century do 
not merit ±e title of revolution. They lacked the ambition of uni- 
versality. Mussolini and Hitler, of course, tried to build an empire 
and the National-Socialist ideologists were bent, explicitly, on world 
domination. But the difference between them and the classic 
revolutionary movement is that, of the nihilist inheritance, they chose 
) to deify the irrational, and the irrational alone, instead of deifying 
reason. In this way they renounced their claim to universality. And 
yet Mussolini is a disciple of Hegel and Hitler o f Nietzsche ; and both 
illustrate, historically, some‘^ ffie prophecies of^ennan ideology. In 
this respect they belong to the history of rebellion and of nihilism. 



They were the first to construct a State on the concept that everything 
was meaningless and that history was only written in terms of the 
hazards of force. The consequences were not long in appearing. 

As early as 1914 Mussolini proclaimed the ‘holy religion of 
anarchy’, and declared himself the enemy of every form of Chris- 
tianity. As for Hitler, his professed religion unhesitatingly juxtaposed 
the God-Providence and Valhalla. Actually his god was an argument 
at a political meeting and a manner of reaching an impressive climax 
at the end of speeches. As long as he was successful, he chose to 
believe that he was inspired. In the hour of defeat, he considered 
himself betrayed by his people. Between the two nothing intervened 
to announce to the world that he would ever have been capable of 
thinking himself guilty in regard to any principle. The only man of 
superior culture who gave Naadsm even an appearance of being a 
philosophy, Ernst Jimger, even went so far as to choose the actual 
formulae of nihilism: ‘The best answer to the betrayal of life by the 
spirit, is the betrayal of the spirit by the spirit, and one of the great 
and cruel pleasures of our times is to participate in the work of 

Men of action, when they are without faith, have never believed 
in anything but action. For Hitler, the insupportable paradox lay 
precisely in wanting to found a stable order on perpetual change and 
on negation. Rauschning, in his Revolution of Nihilism^ was right in 
saying that the Hitlerian revolution was dynamic to the utmost 
degree. In Germany, shaken to its foundations by a war without 
precedent, by defeat, and by economic distress, values no longer 
existed. Although one must take into consideration what Goethe 
called ‘the German destiny of making everything difficult’, the 
epidemic of suicides which affected the entire country, between the 
two wars, indicates a great deal about the state of mental confusion. 
To those who despair of everything reason cannot provide a faith, 
but only passion, and in this case it must be the same passion that 
lay at the root of the despair, namely humiliation and hatred. There 
was no longer any standard of values, both common to and superior 
to the German people, in the name of which it would have been 



possible for them to judge one another. The Germany of 1933 thus 
agreed to adopt the degraded values of a mere handful of men and tried 
to impose them on an entire civilization. Deprived of the morality 
of Goethe, Germany chose, and submitted to, the ethics of the gang. 

Gangster morality is an inexhaustible round of triumph and 
revenge, defeat and resentment. When Mussolini extolled ‘the 
elementary forces of the individual*, he announced the exaltation of 
the dark powers of blood and instinct, the biological justification of 
all the worst things produced by the instinct of domination. At the 
Nuremberg trials, Frank emphasized ‘the hatred of form* which 
animated Hitler. It is true that this man was nothing but an elemental 
force in motion, directed and rendered more effective by extreme 
cunning and by a relentless tactical clairvoyance. 

Even his physical appearance, which was thoroughly mediocre 
and commonplace, was no limitation: it established him firmly with 
the masses. Action alone kept him alive. For him, to exist was to act. 
That is why Hitler and his regime could not dispense with enemies. 
They could only define themselves, frenetic dandies* that they were, 
in relation to their enemies and only assume their final form in the 
bloody battle which was to be their downfall. The Jews,, the Free- 
masons, the plutocrats, the Anglo-Saxons, the bestial Slavs succeeded 
one another in their propaganda and their history as a means of 
bolstering up, each time a little higher, the blind force which was 
stumbling headlong towards its end. Perpetual strife demanded 
perpetual stimulants. 

Hitler was history in its purest form. ‘Evolution*, said Junger, 
‘is far more important than living.* Thus he preaches complete 
identification with the stream of life, on the lowest level and in 
defiance of all superior reality. A regime which invented a biological 
foreign policy was obviously acting against its own best interests. 
But at least it obeyed its own particular logic. Rosenberg speaks 
pompously of life in the following terms: ‘The style of a column on 
the march, and it is of little importance towards what destination and 

^ It is well known that Goering sometimes entertained dressed as Nero and 
with his face made up. 



for what ends this column is marching. * Though later the column 
will strew ruins over the pages of history and will devastate its own 
country, it will at least have had the gratification of living. The real 
logic of this dynamism was either total defeat or a progress from 
conquest to conquest and from enemy to enemy, until the eventual 
establishment of the empire of blood and action. It is very unlikely 
that Hitler ever had any conception, except in the most elementary 
fashion, of this empire. Neither by culture, nor even by instinct or 
tactical intelligence, was he equal to his destiny. Germany collapsed 
as a result of having engaged in a struggle for empire with the con- 
cepts of provincial politics. But Junger had grasped the import of 
this logic and had formulated it in definite terms. He had a vision of 
*a technological world empire’, of a ‘religion of anti-Christian 
technology’, of which the faithful and the militants would have 
themselves been the priests because (and here Junger rejoins Marx), 
by his human structure, the worker is universal. ‘ The Statutes of a 
new authoritarian regime take the place of a change in the social 
contract. The worker is removed from the sphere of negotiation, 
from pity, and from literature and elevated to the sphere of action. 
Legal obligations are transformed into military obligations.’ It can be 
seen that the empire is simultaneously the factory and the barracks 
of the world, where Hegel’s soldier-worker reigns as a slave. Hitler 
was halted relatively soon on the way to the realization of this 
empire. But even if he had gone still farther, we would only have wit- 
nessed the more and more extensive deployment of an irresistible 
dynamism and the increasingly violent enforcement of cynical prin- 
ciples which alone would be capable of serving this dynamism. 

Speaking of such a revolution, Raushchning says that it has 
nothing to do with liberation, justice, and inspiration: it is ‘the 
death of freedom, the triumph of violence, and the enslavement of 
the mind’. Fascism is an act of contempt, in fact. Inversely, every 
form of contempt, if it intervenes in politics, prepares the way for, 
or establishes. Fascism. It must be added that Fascism cannot be 
anything else but an expression of contempt without denying itself. 
Junger drew the conclusion from his own principles that it was 



better to be criminal than bourgeois. Hitler, who was endowed with 
less literary talent but, on this occasion, with more coherence, knew 
that to be either one or the other was a matter of complete indiffer- 
ence, from the moment that one ceased to believe in anything but 
success. Thus he authorized himself to be both at the same time. 
‘Fact is all,’ said Mussolini. And Hitler added: ‘When the race is in 
danger of being oppressed . . . the question of legality only plays a 
secondary role.’ Moreover, m that the race must always be menaced 
in order to exist, there is never any legality. ‘ I am ready to sign any- 
thing, to agree to anything. ... As far as I am concerned, I am 
capable, in complete good faith, of signing treaties today and of 
dispassionately tearing them up tomorrow if the future of the 
German people is at stake.’ Before he declared war, moreover, Hitler 
made the statement to his generals that no one was going to ask the 
viaor if he had told the truth or not. The leitmotive of Goering’s 
defence at the Nuremberg trials returned time and again to this 
theme, ‘the victor will always be the judge and the vanquished will 
always be the accused’. That is a point that can certainly be argued. 
But then it is hard to understand Rosenberg when he said during the 
Nuremberg trials that he had not foreseen that the Nazi myth would 
lead to murder. When the English prosecuting counsel observes that 
‘from Mein Kampf the road led straight to the gas chambers at 
Maidanek’, he touches on the real subject of the trial, the historic 
responsibilities of Western nihilism and the only one which, never- 
theless, was not really discussed at Nuremberg, for reasons only too 
apparent. A trial cannot be conducted by announcing the general 
culpability of a civilization. Only the actual deeds which, at least, 
stank in the nostrils of the entire world were brought to judgement. 

Hitler, in any event, invented the perpetual motion of conquest 
without which he would have been nothing at all. But the perpetual 
enemy is perpetual terror, this time on the level of the State. The 
State is identified with the ‘apparatus’, that is to say with the sum- 
total of mechanisms of conquest and repression. Conquest directed 
towards the interior of the country is called repression or propaganda 
(‘the fijrst step on the road to hell’, according to Frank) - directed 



towards the exterior, it creates the army. All problems are thus 
military, posed in terms of power and efficiency. The supreme com- 
mander determines policy and also deals with all the main problems 
of administration. This principle, axiomatic as far as strategy is con- 
cerned, is applied to civil life in general. One leader, one people, 
signifies one master and millions of slaves. The political inter- 
mediaries who are, in all societies, the guarantors of freedom, 
disappear to make way for a booted and spurred Jehovah who rules 
over the silent masses or, which comes to the same thing, over masses 
who shout words of command at the top of their lungs. There is no 
organ of conciliation or mediation interposed between the leader and 
the people, nothing in fact but the apparatus, in other words the 
party, which is the emanation of the leader and the tool of his will to 
oppress. In this way the first and sole principle of this degraded form 
of mysticism is bom, the Fuhrerprinzip^ which restores idolatry and 
a debased deity to the world of nihilism. 

Mussolini, who was a Latin and, therefore, by nature a jurist, 
contented himself with reasons of State, which he transformed, with 
a great deal of rhetoric, into the absolute. "Nothing beyond the State, 
above the State, against the State. Everything to the State, for the 
State, in the State.’ The Germany of Hitler gave his false reasoning 
its real expression, which was that of a religion. ‘Our divine mission’, 
a Nazi newspaper says during a party congress, ‘was to lead everyone 
back to his origins, back to the common Mother. It was truly a 
divine mission.’ The origins of this are to be found in a primitive 
baying to the moon. Who is the god in question ? An official party 
declaration answers that: ‘All of us, here below, believe in Adolf 
Hitler, our Fuhrer . . . and (we confess) that National Socialism is the 
only faith which can lead our people to salvation.’ The command- 
ments of the leader, standing in the burning bush of searchlights, on 
a Sinai of planks and flags, therefore comprise both law and virtue. 
If the superhuman microphones give orders only once for a crime to 
be committed, then the crime is handed down from chief to sub- 
chief until it reaches the slave who receives orders without beii^ able 
to pass them on to anybody. One of the Dachau executioners weeps 



in prison and says, ‘I only obeyed orders. The Fuhrer and the 
Reichsfiihrer, alone, planned all this and then they ran away. 
Gluecks received orders from Kaltenbrunner and, finally, I received 
orders to carry out the shootings. I have been left holding the bag 
because I was only a httle Hauptscharfuhrer and because I couldn^t 
hand it on any lower down the line. Now they say that I am the 
assassin.* Goering, during the trial, proclaimed his loyalty to the 
Fuhrer and said that ‘there was still a code of honour in that accursed 
life*. Honour lay in obedience which was often confused with crime. 
Military law punishes disobedience by death and its honour is 
servitude. When all the world has become military, then crime 
consists in not killing if mihtary orders insist on it. 

Orders, unfortunately, seldom insist on good deeds. Pure doctrinal 
dynamism cannot be directed towards good, but only towards 
efficaciousness. As long as enemies exist, terror will exist; and there 
will be enemies as long as dynamism exists to insure that: ‘All the 
influences hable to undermine the sovereignty of the people, as 
exercised by the Fuhrer with the assistance of the party . . . must be 
eliminated.* Enemies are heretics and must be converted by preach- 
ing or, in other words, by the Gestapo. The result is that man, if he 
is a member of the party, is no more than a tool in the hands of the 
Fiihrer, a cog in the apparatus, or, if he is the enemy of the Fuhrer, 
a waste product of the machine. The impetus towards irrationality 
of this movement, bom of rebellion, now even goes so far as to 
propose subjugating all that makes man more than a cog in the 
machine ; in other words, rebellion itself The romantic individualism 
of the German revolution finally peters out in the world of inanimate 
objeas. Irrational terror transforms men into matter, ‘planetary 
bacilh*, according to Hitler’s formula. This formula proposes the 
destruction, not only of the individual, but of the universal possi- 
bilities of the individual, of reflection, solidarity, and the urge to 
absolute love. Propaganda and torture are the direct means of bring- 
ing about disintegration; more destructive still are systematic 
degradation, joint culpability with the cynical criminal and forced 
complicity. He who kills or tormres wfll only experience the shadow 



of victory: he will be unable to feel that he is innocent. Thus, he 
must create guilt in his victim so that, in a world that has no direction, 
universal guilt will authorize no other course of action but the use of 
force and give its blessing to nothing but success. When the concept 
of innocence disappears from the mind of the innocent victim himself, 
the value of power establishes a definitive rule over a world in despair. 
That is why an unworthy and cruel condemnation to penitence 
reigns in this world where only the stones are innocent. The con- 
demned are compelled to hang one another. Even the innocent cry of 
maternity is stifled, as in the case of the Greek mother who was forced 
by an officer to choose which of her three sons was to be shot. This is 
the final realization of freedom: the power to kill and degrade saves 
the servile soul from utter emptiness. The hymn of German freedom 
is sung, to the music of a prisoners* orchestra, in the camps of death. 

The crimes of the Hitler regime, among them the massacre of the 
Jews, are without precedent in history because history gives no other 
example of a doctrine of such total destruction being able to seize the 
levers of command of a civilized nation. But above all, for the first 
time in history, the rulers of a country have used their immense 
power to establish a mystique beyond the bounds of any ethical 
considerations. This first attempt to found a Church on nothingness 
was paid for by complete annihilation. The destruction of Lidice 
demonstrates clearly that the systematic and scientific aspect of the 
Nazi movement really hides an irrational drive which can only be 
interpreted as a drive of despair and arrogance. Until then, there 
were supposedly only two possible attitudes towards a village which 
was considered rebellious. Either calculated repression and cold- 
blooded execution of hostages, or a savage and necessarily brief sack 
by enraged soldiers. Lidice was destroyed by both methods simul- 
taneously. It illustrates the ravages of that irrational form of reason 
which is the only value that can be found in the whole story. Not 
only were all the houses burned to the ground, the hundred and 
seventy-four men of the village shot, the two hundred and three 
women deported, and the three hundred children transferred else- 
where to be educated in the religion of the Fiihrer, but special teams 



spent months at work levelling the terrain with dynamite, destroying 
the very stones, filling in the village pond and, finally, diverting the 
course of the river. After that, Lidice was really nothing more than a 
mere possibihty according to the logic of the movement. To make 
assurance doubly sure, the cemetery was emptied of its dead who 
might have been a perpetual reminder that once something existed in 
this place. 

The nihilist revolution, which is expressed historically in the 
Plitlerian religion, thus only aroused an insensate passion for 
nothingness which ended by turning against itself. Negation, this 
time without and despite Hegel, has not been creative. Hitler 
presents the example which is perhaps unique in history of a tyrant 
who has left absolutely no trace of his activities. For himself, for his 
people, and for the world, he was nothing but the epitome of suicide 
and murder. Seven million Jews assassinated, seven million Euro- 
peans deported or killed, ten million war victims are, perhaps, not 
sufficient to allow history to pass judgement: history is accustomed 
to murderers. But the very destruction of Hitler’s final justification, 
by which we mean the German nation, henceforth makes this man, 
whose presence in history for years on end haunted the minds of 
millions of men, into an inconsistent and contemptible phantom. 
Speer’s deposition at the Nuremberg trials showed that Hitler, 
although he could have stopped the war before the point of total 
disaster, reaUy wanted universal suicide and the material and 
political destruction of the German nation. The only value for him 
remained, until the bitter end, success. Since Germany had lost the 
war, she was cowardly and treacherous and she deserved to die. ‘If 
the German people are incapable of victory, they are unworthy to 
live.’ Hitler, therefore, decided to drag them with him to the grave 
and to make his death an apotheosis, when the Russian cannons were 
already splitting apart the walls of his palace in Berlin. Hitler, 
Goering, who wanted to see his bones placed in a marble tomb, 
Goebbels, Himmler, Ley, killed themselves in dugouts or in cells. 
But their deaths were deaths for nothing, and they themselves were 
like a bad dream, a puff of smoke which vanishes. Neither efficacious 



nor exemplary, they consecrate the bloodthirsty vanity of nihilism. 
‘They thought they were free,* Frank cries hysterically; ‘didn’t they 
know that no one escapes from Hiderism ?’ They did not know: nor 
did they know that the negation of everything is in itself a form of 
servitude and that real freed om is an inner submission to a value 
whi ch defies histo ry and itT successes^ — • 

But the Fascist mystics, even though they aimed at gradually 
dominating the world, really never had pretensions to a universal 
empire. At the very most, Hider, astonished at his own viaories, 
was diverted from the provincial origins of his movement towards 
the indefinite dream of an empire of the Germans that had nothing 
to do with the universal city. Russian Communism, on the contrary, 
by its very origins, openly aspires to world empire. That is its 
strength, its deliberate significance, and its importance in our 
history. Despite appearances, the German revolution had no hope 
of a future. It was only a primitive impulse whose ravages have been 
greater than its real ambitions. Russian Communism, on the contrary, 
has appropriated the metaphysical ambition which this book 
describes, the erection, after the death of God, of a city of man 
finally deified. The name revolution, to which Hitier’s adventure 
had no claim, was once deserved by Russian Communism, and 
although it apparendy deserves it no longer it claims that one day it 
will deserve it forever. For the first time in history, a doctrine and a 
movement supported by an empire in arms has, as its purpose, 
definitive revolution and the unification of the world. It remains for 
us to examine this intention in detail. Hider, at the height of his 
madness, wanted to fix the course of history for a thousand years. He 
thought himself on the point of doing so, and the realist philosophers 
of the conquered nations were preparing to acknowledge this and to 
excuse it, when the batde of Britain and Stalingrad threw him back 
on the path of death and set history once more on the march. But, as 
indefatigable as history itself, the claim of the human race to divinity 
is once more brought to life with more seriousness, more efficiency, 
and more reason under the auspices of the rational state as it is to be 
found in Russia. 

State Terrorism and Rational Terror 

Marx, in nineteenth-century England, in the midst of the terrible 
sufferings caused by the transition from an agricultural economy to 
an industrial economy, had plenty of material for constructing a 
striking analysis of primitive capitalism. As for Socialism, apart from 
the lessons, which for the most part contradicted its doctrines, that it 
could draw from the French Revolution, it was obliged to speak in 
the future tense and in the abstract. Thus it is not astonishing that it 
could blend in its doctrine the most valid critical method with a 
Utopian messianism of highly dubious value. The unfortunate thing 
is that its critical method which, by definition, should have been 
adjusted to reality, has found itself further and further separated 
from facts to the exact extent that it wanted to remain faithful to the 
prophecy. It was thought, and this is already an indication of the 
future, that what was conceded to truth could be taken from messian- 
ism. This contradiction is perceptible in Marx’s lifetime. The 
doctrine of the Communist Manifesto is no longer strictly correct 
twenty years later, when Das Kapital appears. Das Kapital neverthe- 
less, remained incomplete, because Marx was influenced at the end 
of his life by a new and prodigious mass of social and economic facts 
to which the system had to be adapted anew. These facts concerned, 
in particular, Russia, which he had spumed up till then. We now 
know that the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow ceased, in 1935, the 
publication of the complete works of Marx while more than thirty 
volumes still remained unpublished: doubtless the content of these 
volumes was not ‘Marxist’ enough. 

Since Marx’s death, in any case, only a minority of disciples have 
remained faithful to his method. The Marxists who have made 
history have, on the contrary, appropriated the prophecy and the 
apocalyptic aspects of his doctrine in order to realize a Marxist 
revolution, in the exact circumstances under which Marx had fore- 



fasten that a revolution could not take place. It can be said of Marx that 
' the greater part of his predictions came into conflict with facts as 
soon as his prophecies began to become an object of increasing faith. 
The reason is simple ; the predictions were short term and could be 
controlled. Prophecy functions on a very long-term basis and has, 
as one of its properties, a characteristic which is the very source of 
strength of all religions: the impossibility of proof. When the 
predictions failed to come true, the prophecies remained the only 
hope: with the result that they alone rule over our history. Marxism 
and its successors will be examined here from the angle of prophecy. 


Marx is simultaneously a bourgeois and a revolutionary prophet. 
The latter is better known than the former. But the former explains 
many things in the career of the latter. A messianism of Christian and 
bourgeois origin, which was both historic and scientific, influenced 
his revolutionary messianism, which sprang from German ideology 
and the French rebellions. 

In contrast to the ancient world, the unity of the Christian and 
Marxist world is astonishing. The two doctrines have in common a 
vision of the world which completely separates them from the Greek 
attitude. Jaspers defines this very well: ‘it is a Christian way of 
thinking to consider that the history of man is strictly unique.’ The 
Christians were the first to consider human life and the course of 
events as a history which is unfolding from a fixed beginning towards 
a definite end, in the course of which man gains his salvation or earns 
his punishment. The philosophy of history springs from a Christian 
representation, wliich is surprising to a Greek mind. The Greek idea 
of evolution has nothing in common with our idea of historic 
evolution. The difference between the two is the difference between 
a circle and a straight line. The Greeks imagine the history of the 
world as cyclical. Aristotle, to give a definite example, did not believe 



that he was living after the time of the Trojan war. Christianity was 
obliged, in order to penetrate the mediterranean world, to hellenize 
itself, which caused its doctrine to become simultaneously more 
flexible. But its originality lay in introducing into the ancient world 
two ideas which had never before been associated, the idea of history 
and the idea of punishment. In its concept of mediation, Christianity 
is Greek. In its idea of history, Christianity is Judaic and will be 
found again in German ideology. 

It is easier to understand this dissimilarity by underlining the 
hostility of historic methods of thought toward nature, which they 
considered as an object not for contemplation but for transformation. 
For the Christian, as for the Marxist, nature must be subdued. The 
Greeks are of the opinion that it is better to obey it. The love of the 
ancients for the cosmos was completely unknown to the first 
Christians who, moreover, awaited with impatience an imminent end 
of the world. Hellenism, in association with Christianity, then 
produces the admirable efflorescence of the Albigensian heresy on the 
one hand, and on the other Saint Francis. But with the Inquisition 
and the destruction of the Albigensian heresy, the Church again 
parts company with the world and with beauty, and gives back to 
history its pre-eminence over nature. Jaspers is again right in saying: 
‘ It is the Christian attitude that gradually empties the world of its 
substance . . . since the substance resided in a conglomeration of 
symbols.’ These symbols are those of the drama of the divinity which 
unfolds throughout time. Nature is only the setting for this drama. 
The delicate equilibrium between humanity and nature, man’s con- 
sent to the world, which gives ancient thought its distinction and its 
refulgence, was first shattered for the benefit of history by Christi- 
anity. The entry into this history of the nordic peoples, who have no 
tradition of friendship with the world, precipitated this trend. From 
the moment that the divinity of Christ is denied, or that thanks to the 
efforts of German ideology. He only symbolizes the man-god, the 
concept of mediation disappears and a Judaic world reappears. 
The implacable god of war rules again; all beauty is insulted as the 
source of idle pleasures, nature itself is enslaved. Marx, from this 



point of view, is the Jeremiah of the god of history and the Saint 
Augustine of the revolution. That this explains the really reactionary 
aspects of his doctrine can be demonstrated by a simple comparison 
with his one contemporary who was an intelligent theorist of reaction. 

Joseph de Maistre refutes Jacobinism and Calvinism, two doctrines 
which summed up for him ‘everything bad that has been thought for 
three centuries in the name of a Christian philosophy of history. To 
counter schisms and heresies, he wanted to recreate ‘the robe without 
a seam* of a really Catholic Church. His aim - and this can be seen at 
the period of his masonic adventures - is the universal Christian city. 
Maistre dreams of a protoplastic Adam, or the Universal Man, of 
Fabre D’Olivet, who will be the rallying-point of individual soul 
and of the Adam Kadmon of the Cabalists, who preceded the fall and 
who must now be brought to life again. When the Church has re- 
claimed the world, she will endow this first and last Adam with a 
body. In the Soirees in Saint Petersburg there is a mass of formulae 
on this subject which bears a striking resemblance to the messianic 
formulae of Hegel and Marx. In both the terrestrial and celestial 
Jerusalem that Maistre imagines ‘all the inhabitants pervaded by the 
same spirit will pervade one another and will reflect one another’s 
happiness’. Maistre does not go so far as to deny personal survival 
after death; he only dreams of a mysterious unity reconquered in 
which, ‘evil having been annihilated, there will be no more passion 
nor self-interest ’, and where ‘man will be reunited with himself when 
his double standard will be obliterated and his two centres unified.’ 

In the city of absolute knowledge, where the eyes of the mind and 
the eyes of the body became as one, Hegel also reconciled contra- 
dictions. But Maistre’s vision again coincides with Marx who 
proclaims ‘the end of the quarrel between essence and existence, 
between freedom and necessity’. Evil, for Maistre, who is an anden 
rigime reactionary, is less explicit on this point than Marx. Mean-- 
while he was awaiting a great religious revolution of which 1789 was 
only the ‘appalling preface’. He quotes Saint John who asks that we 
build truth, which is exactly the programme of the modern revolu- 
tionary mind, and Saint Paul who announces that ‘the last enemy 



who must be destroyed is deatli\ Humanity marches, through crimes, 
violence, and death, towards this final consummation which will 
justify everything. The earth for Maistre is nothiiig but ‘an immense 
altar on which all the living must be sacrificed, without end, without 
limit, without respite, until the end of time, until the extinction of 
evil, until the death of death*. However, his fatalism is active as well 
as passive. ‘Man must act as if he were capable of all things and 
resign himself as if he were capable of nothing.* We find in Marx the 
same sort of creative fatalism. Maistre undoubtedly justifies the 
established order. But Marx justifies the order which is established 
in his time. The most eloquent eulogy of capitalism was made by its 
greatest enemy. Marx is only anti-capitalist in so far as capitalism is 
out of date. Another order must be established which will demand, in 
the name of history, a new conformity. As for the means, they are the 
same for Marx as for Maistre: political realism, discipline, force. 
When Maistre adopts Boussuet*s bold idea that ‘the heretic is he who 
has personal ideas*, in other words ideas which have no reference 
either to a social or religious tradition, he provides the formula for the 
most ancient and the most modem of conformities. The Solicitor- 
General, pessimistic bard of the executioner, then proceeds to 
proclaim the coming of our diplomatic public prosecutors. 

It goes without saying that these resemblances do not make 
Maistre a Marxist, nor Marx a traditional Christian. Marxist 
atheism is absolute. But nevertheless it does reinstate the supreme 
being. From this angle, socialism is therefore an enterprise for the 
deification of man and has assumed some of the characteristics of 
traditional religions. This reconciliation, in any case, is instructive as 
concerns the Christian origins of all types of historic messianism, 
even revolutionary messianism. The only difference lies in a change 
of symbols. With Maistre, as with Marx, the end of time realizes 
Vigny’s ambitious dream, the reconciliation of the wolf and the lamb, 
the procession of criminal and victim to the same altar, the reopening 
or opening of a terrestrial paradise. For Marx, the laws of history 
reflect material reality; for Maistre they reflect divine reality. But for 
the former, matter is the substance; for the latter, the substance of 



his god is incarnate here below. Eternity separates them at the 
beginning, but the doctrines of history end by reuniting them in a 
realistic conclusion. 

Maistre hated Greece (it also irked Marx, who found any form of 
beauty under the sun completely alien) of which he said that it had 
corrupted Europe by bequeathing it its spirit of division. It would 
have been more appropriate to say that Greek thought was the spirit 
of unity, precisely because it could not do without intermediaries, 
and because it was, on the contrary, quite unaware of the historic 
spirit of totality which was invented by Christianity and which, cut 
off from its religious origins, threatens the life of Europe today. ‘ Is 
there a fable, a form of madness, a vice which has not a Greek name, 
a Greek emblem, or a Greek mask ? ’ Apart from outraged puritanism, 
this passionate denunciation expresses the spirit of modernity at 
variance with the ancient world and in direct continuity with 
authoritarian socialism, which is about to deconsecrate Christianity 
and incorporate it in a Church bent on conquest. 

Marx’s scientific materialism is itself of bourgeois origin. Progress, 
the future of science, the cult of technology and of production are 
bourgeois myths which in the nineteenth century became dogma. 
We note that the Communist Manifesto appeared in the same year as 
Renan’s Future of Science. This profession of faith, which would 
cause considerable consternation to a contemporary reader, neverthe- 
less gives the most accurate idea of the almost mystic hopes aroused 
in the nineteenth century by the expansion of industry and the 
surprising progress made by science. This hope is the hope of 
bourgeois society itself - the final beneficiary of technical progress. 

The idea of progress is contemporary to the age of enlightenment 
and to the bourgeois revolution. Of course, certain sources of its 
inspiration can be found in the seventeenth century: the quarrel 
between the Ancients and the Moderns already introduced into 
European ideology the perfectly absurd conception of an artistic 
form of progress. In a more serious fashion, the idea of a science 
which steadily increases its conquests can also be derived from 



Cartesian philosophy. But Turgot, in 1750, is the first person to give 
a dear definition of the new faith. His treatise on the progress of the 
human mind basically recapitulates Bossuet’s universal history: 
except that the idea of progress is substituted for the divine will. ‘The 
total mass of the human race, by alternating stages of calm and 
agitation, of good and evil, always marches, though with dragging 
footsteps, towards greater and greater perfection.’ This optimistic 
statement will furnish the basic ingredient of the rhetorical observa- 
tions of Condorcet, the official theorist of progress, which he linked 
with the progress of the State and of which he was also the official 
victim in that the enlightened State forced him to poison himself. 
Sorel was perfectly correct in saying that the philosophy of progress 
was exactly the philosophy to suit a sodety eager to enjoy the 
material prosperity derived from technical progress. When we are 
assured that tomorrow, in the natural order of events, will be better 
than today, we can enjoy ourselves in peace. Progress, paradoxically, 
can be used to justify conservatism. A draft drawn on confidence in 
the future, it allows the master to have a clear consdence. The slave 
and those whose present life is miserable and who can find no con- 
solation in the heavens, are assured that at least the future belongs to 
them. The future is the only kind of property that the masters 
willingly concede to the slaves. 

These reflections are not, as we can see, out of date. But they are 
not out of date because the revolutionary spirit has resumed this 
ambiguous and convenient theme of progress. Of course, it is not the 
same kind of progress ; Marx cannot pour enough scorn on bourgeois 
rational optimism. His concept of reason, as we shall see, is different. 
But arduous progress towards a future of reconciliation nevertheless 
defines Marx’s thought. Hegel and Marxism destroyed the formal 
values which lighted, for the Jacobins, the straight road of this 
optimistic version of history. Nevertheless they preserved this idea 
of the march forward of history, which was simply confounded by 
them with social progress and declared necessary. Thus they 
continued on the path of nineteenth-century bourgeois thought. 
Tocqueville, enthusiastically succeeded by Pecqueur (who influenced 


Marx), had solemnly proclaimed that: ‘The gradual and progressive 
development of equality is both the past and the future of the history 
of man.’ To obtain Marxism, substitute the term ‘level of pro- 
duction’ for ‘equality’ and imagine that in the final stage of produc- 
tion a transformation takes place and a reconciled society is achieved. 

As for the necessity of evolution, Auguste Comte, with the law of 
three stages of man which he formulates in 1822, gives the most 
systematic definition of it. Comte’s conclusions are curiously like 
those finally accepted by scientific socialism. Positivism demon- 
strates, with considerable clarity, the repercussions of the ideological 
revolution of the nineteenth century, of which Marx is one of the 
representatives, and which consisted of relegating to the end of 
history the Garden of Eden and the Revelation which tradition had 
always placed at the begiiming. The positivist era which was bound 
to follow the metaphysical era and the theological era was to mark 
the advent of a religion of humanity. Henri Gouhier gives an exact 
definition of Comte’s enterprise when he says that his concern was 
to discover a man without any traces of God. Comte’s primary aim, 
which was to substitute, everywhere, the relative for the absolute, 
was quickly transformed, by force of circumstances, into the deifica- 
tion of the relative and into preaching a new religion which is both 
universal and without transcendence. Comte saw, in the Jacobin cult 
of reason, an anticipation of positivism and considered himself, with 
perfect justification, as the real successor of the revolutionaries of 
1789. He continued and enlarged the scope of this revolution by 
suppressing the transcendence of principles and by systematically 
founding the religion of the species. His formula ‘set aside God in 
the name of religion’ meant nothing else but this. Inaugurating a 
mania which has since enjoyed a great vogue, he wanted to be the 
Saint Paul of this new religion and replace the Catholicism of Rome 
by the Catholicism of Paris. We know that he wanted to see, in all the 
cathedrals, ‘the statue of deified humanity on the former altar of 
God’. He calculated with considerable accuracy that they would be 
preaching positivism in Notre-Dame before i860. This calculation 
was not as ridiculous as it seems. Notre-Dame, in a state of siege, 



Still resists: but the religion of humanity was effectively preached 
towards the end of the nineteenth century and Marx, despite the 
fact that he had not read Comte, was one of its prophets. Marx only 
understood that a religion which did not embrace transcendence 
should properly be called politics. Comte knew it too, after all, or at 
least he understood that his religion was primarily a form of social 
idolatry and that it implied political realism,"*^ the negation of 
individual rights and the estabhshment of despotism. A society whose 
scientists would be priests, two thousand bankers and technicians 
ruling over a Europe of one hundred and twenty million inhabitants 
where private life would be absolutely identified with public life, 
where absolute obedience ‘of action, of thought, and of feeling’ 
would be given to the high priest who would reign over everything, 
such was Comte’s Utopia which announces what might be called the 
horizontal religions of our times. Convinced of the enlightening 
powers of science, Comte forgot to provide a police force. Others will 
be more practical ; the religion of humanity will be effectively founded 
on the blood and suffering of humanity. 

Finally, if we add to these observations that Marx owes to the 
bourgeois economists the idea, which he claims exclusively as his 
own, of the part played by industrial production in the development 
of humanity, and that he took the essentials of his theory of work- 
value from Ricardo, an economist of the bourgeois industrial revolu- 
tion, our right to say that his prophecy is bourgeois in content will 
doubtless be recognized. These comparisons only aim to show that 
Marx, instead of being, as the fanatical Marxists of our day would 
have it, the beginning and the end of the prophecy, on the contrary, 
participates in human nature: he is an heir before he is a pioneer. 
His doctrine, which he wanted to be a realist doctrine, was actually 
realistic during the period of the religion of science, of Darwinian 
evolutionism, of the steam engine, and the textile industry. A 
hundred years later, science has encountered relativity, uncertainty, 
and hazard; the economy must take into account electricity, metal- 

* ‘ Everything which develops spontaneously is necessarily legitimate, for 
a certain time.* 



lurgy, and atomic production. The inability of pure Marxism to 
assimilate its successive discoveries was shared by the bourgeois 
optimist of Marx’s time. It renders ridiculous the Marxist pretension 
of maintaining that truths one hundred years old are unalterable 
without ceasing to be scientific. Nineteenth-century messianism, 
whether it is revolutionary or bourgeois, has not resisted the suc- 
cessive developments of this science and this history, which to 
different degrees they have deified. 


Marx’s prophecy is also revolutionary in principle. In that all human 
reality has its origins in the fruits of production, historic evolution is 
revolutionary because the economy is revolutionary. At each level of 
production the economy arouses the antagonisms which destroy, to 
the profit of a superior level of production, the corresponding society. 
Capitalism is the last of these stages of production because it pro- 
duces the conditions in which every antagonism will be resolved and 
where there will be no more economy. On that day our history will 
become pre-history. This representation is the same as Hegel’s, but 
in another perspective. The dialectic is considered from the angle of 
the spirit. Marx, of course, never spoke himself about dialectical 
materialism. He left to his heirs the task of extolling this logical 
monstrosity. But he says, at the same time, that reality is dialectic 
and that it is economic. Reality is a perpetual process of evolution, 
propelled by the fertile impact of perpetual antagonisms which are 
resolved each time into a superior synthesis which, itself, creates its 
opposite and again causes history to advance. What Hegel affirmed 
concerning reality advancing towards the spirit, Marx affirms con- 
cerning economy on the march towards a classless society; everything 
is both itself and its opposite, and this contradiction compels it to 
become something else. Capitalism, because it is bourgeois, reveals 
itself as revolutionary and prepares the way for communism. 



Marx’s originality lies in affirming that history is simultaneously 
dialectic and economic. Hegel, more extreme, aflSrmed that it was 
both matter and spirit. Moreover, it could only be matter to the 
extent that it was spirit and vice versa. Marx denies the spirit as the 
definitive substance and affirms historic materialism. We can 
immediately remark, with BerdaiefF, on the impossibility of recon- 
ciling the dialectic with materialism. There can only be a dialectic of 
the mind. But even materialism itself is an ambiguous idea. Even 
only to form this word, it must be admitted that there is something 
more in the world than matter alone. For even stronger reasons, this 
criticism applies to historic materialism. History is distinguished 
from nature precisely by the fact that it transforms, by means of will, 
science, and passion. Marx, then, is not a pure materialist, for the 
obvious reason that there is neither a pure nor absolute materialism. 
So far is it from being pure or absolute that it recognizes that if 
weapons can secure the triumph of theory, theory can equally well 
give birth to weapons. Marx’s position would be more properly 
called historic determinism. He does not deny thought; he imagines 
it absolutely determined by exterior reality. ‘For me, the process of 
thought is only the reflection of the process of reality transported and 
transposed to the mind of man.’ This particularly clumsy definition 
has no meaning. How and by what can an exterior process be ‘trans- 
' ported to the mind ’, and this difficulty is as nothing compared to that 
of then defining ‘the transposition’ of this process. But Marx used 
the short-sighted philosophy of his time. What he wishes to say can 
be defined on other planes. 

For him, man is only history, and in particular the history of the 
means of production. Marx, in fact, remarks that man differs from 
animals in that he produces his own means of subsistence. If he does 
not first eat, if he does not clothe himself or take shelter, he does not 
exist. This primum vivere is his first determination. The little that he 
thinks at this moment is in direct relation to these inevitable neces- 
sities. Marx then demonstrates that this dependence is both invariable 
and inevitable. ‘The history of industry is the open book of man’s 
essential faculties,’ His personal generalization consists of inferring 



from this affirmation, which is on the whole acceptable, that 
economic dependence is unique and suffices to explain everything 
which still remains to be demonstrated. We can admit that economic 
determination plays a highly important role in the genesis of human 
thoughts and actions without drawing the conclusion, as Marx does, 
that the German rebellion against Napoleon is explained only by the 
lack of sugar and coffee. Moreover, pure determinism is absurd in 
itself. If it were not, then one single affirmation would suffice to lead, 
from consequence to consequence, to the entire truth. If this is not 
so, then either we have never made a single true affirmation - not even 
the one stated by determinism - or we simply happen occasionally to 
say the truth, but without any consequences, and determinism is then 
false. However, Marx had his reasons, which are foreign to pure 
logic, for resorting to so arbitrary a simplification. 

To put economic determinations at the root of all human action is 
to sum man up in terms of his social relations. There is no such thing 
as a solitary man, that is the indisputable discovery of the nineteenth 
century. An arbitrary deduction then leads to the statement that man 
only feels solitary in society for social reasons. If, in fact, the solitary 
mind must be explained by something which is outside man, then 
man is on the road to some form of transcendence. On the other 
hand, society has only man as its source of origin; if, in addition, it 
can be affirmed that society is the creator of man, it would seem as 
•though one had achieved the total explanation which would allow 
the final banishment of transcendence. Man would then be, as Marx 
wanted, ‘author and aaor of his own history'. Marx’s prophecy is 
revolutionary because he completes the movement of negation begun 
by the philosophy of illumination. The Jacobins destroyed the 
transcendence of a personal god, but replaced it by the transcendence 
of principles. Marx institutes contemporary atheism by destroying 
the transcendence of principles as well. Marx destroys, even more 
radically than Hegel, the transcendence of reason and hurls it into 
the stream of history. Even before their time, history was a regulating 
principle, now it is triumphant. Marx goes further than Hegel and 
pretends to consider him as an ideahst (which he is not, at least no 



more than Marx is a materialist) to the precise extent that the reign 
of the mind restores in a certain way, a supra-historic value. Das 
Kapital returns to the dialectic of mastery and servitude, but re- 
places a consciousness of self by economic autonomy and the final 
reign of the absolute Spirit through the advent of communism. 
‘Atheism is humanism mediated by the suppression of religion, 
communism is humanism mediated by the suppression of 
private property.’ Religious alienation has the same origin as 
economic alienation. Religion can only be disposed of by achieving 
the absolute liberty of man in regard to his material determina- 
tions. The revolution is identified with atheism and with the reign 
of man. 

That is why Marx is brought to the point of putting the emphasis 
on economic and social determination. Its most profitable under- 
taking has been to reveal the reality which is hidden behind the 
formal values of which the bourgeois of his time made a great show. 
His theory of mystification is still valid, because it is in fact universally 
true, and is equally applicable to revolutionary mystification. The 
freedom of which Monsieur Thiers dreamed was the freedom of 
privilege consolidated by the police; the family, extolled by the 
conservative newspapers, was supported by social conditions in 
which men and women were sent down the mines, attached to a 
communal rope; morality prospered on the prostitution of the work- 
ing classes. That the demands of honesty and intelligence were put 
to egoistic ends by the hypocrisy of a mediocre and grasping society 
was a misfortune that Marx, the incomparable eye-opener, de- 
nounced with a vehemence quite unknown before him. This indig- 
nant denunciation brought other excesses in its train which require 
quite another denunciation. But, above all, wc must recognize and 
state that the denunciation was born in the blood of the abortive 
Lyon rebellion of 1834 and in the despicable cruelty of the Versailles 
moralists in 1871. ‘The man who has nothing is nothing.’ If this 
afiirmation is actually false, it was very nearly true in the optimist 
society of the nineteenth century. The extreme irresponsibility 
brought about by the economy of prosperity was to compel Marx to 



give first place to social and economic relationships and to magnify 
still more his prophecy of the reign of man. 

It is now easier to understand the purely economic explanation of 
history offered by Marx. If principles are deceptive, only the reality 
of poverty and work is true. If it is then possible to demonstrate that 
this suffices to explain the past and the future of mankind, then 
principles will be destroyed forever and with them the society which 
profits by them. This in fact is Marx’s ambition. 

Man is bom into a world of production and social relations. The 
unequal opportunities of different lands, the more or less rapid 
improvements in the means of production and the struggle for life 
have rapidly created social inequalities which have been crystallized 
into antagonisms between production and distribution; and, conse- 
quently, into class struggles. These struggles and antagonisms are the 
motive power of history. Slavery, in ancient times, and feudal 
bondage were stages on a long road which led to the artisanship of 
the Middle Ages, when the producer was master of the means of 
production. At this moment the opening of world trade routes and 
the discovery of new outlets demanded a less provincial form of 
production. The contradiction between the method of production 
and the new demands of distribution already announces the end of 
the regime of small-scale agricultural and industrial production. The 
industrial revolution, the invention of steam, and competition for 
outlets inevitably led to the expropriation of the small proprietor and 
to the introduction of large-scale production. The means of pro- 
duction are then concentrated in the hands of those who are able to 
buy them; the real producers, the workers, now only dispose of the 
strength of their arms which can be sold to the ‘man with the 
money’. Thus bourgeois capitalism is defined by the separation of 
the producer from the means of production. From this conflict a 
series of inevitable consequences are going to spring which allow 
Marx to predicate the end of social antagonisms. 

At first sight there is no reason why the firmly established principle T 
of a dialectical class struggle should suddenly cease to be true. It is J 



always true or it has never been true. Marx says plainly that there will 
be no more classes after the revolution than there were sodal distinc- 
tions after 1789. But social distinctions disappeared without classes 
disappearing, and there is nothing to prove that classes will not give 
way to some other form of social antagonism. The essential point of 
the Marxist prophecy lies, nevertheless, in this afiirmation. 

We know the Marxist scheme. Marx, following in the footsteps of 
Adam Smith and Ricardo, defines the value of all commodities in 
terms of the amount of work necessary to produce them. The amount 
of work is itself a commodity, sold by the proletarian to the capitalist, 
of which the value is defined by the quantity of work which produces 
it; in other words, by the value of the consumer’s good necessary for 
its maintenance. The capitalist, in buying this commodity, thereby 
undertakes to pay sufficient for he who sells it - in other words, the 
worker - to feed and perpetuate himself. But at the same time he 
acquires the right to make the latter work as long as he can. He can 
work for a very much longer time than is necessary to pay for his 
subsistence. In a twelve-hour day, if half of the time suffices to 
produce a value equivalent to the value of the products of subsistence, 
the other six hours are hours not paid for, a plus-value, which 
constitutes the capitalist’s own profit. Thus the capitalist’s interest 
lies in prolonging to the maximum the hours of work or, when he 
can do so no longer, of increasing the worker’s output to the maxi- 
mum. The first type of coercion is a matter of oppression and cruelty. 
The second is a question of the organization of labour. It leads first 
to the division of labour, and finally to the utilization of the machine, 
which contributes to the dehumanization of the worker. Besides, 
competition for foreign markets and the necessity for larger and 
larger investments in raw materials, produce phenomena of con- 
centration and accumulation. First, small capitalists are absorbed by 
big capitalists who can maintain, for example, unprofitable prices for 
a long period. A larger and larger part of the profits is finally invested 
in new machines and accumulated in the fixed assets of capital. This 
double movement first of all hastens the ruin of the middle classes, 
who arc absorbed into the proletariat, and then proceeds to con- 



centratc, in an increasingly small number of hands, the riches which 
are produced uniquely by the proletariat. Thus the proletariat 
inaeases in size in proportion to its increasing ruin. Capital is now 
concentrated in the hands of only a very few masters whose growing 
power is based on robbery. Moreover, these masters are shaken to 
their foundations by successive crises, overwhelmed by the contra- 
dictions of the system, and can no longer even assure mere sub- 
sistence to their slaves who then come to depend on private or public 
charity. A day comes, inevitably, when a huge army of oppressed 
slaves find themselves face to face with a handful of despicable 
masters. That day is the day of revolution. ‘The ruin of the bour- 
geoisie and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.’ 

This henceforth famous description does not yet give an account 
of the end of all antagonisms. After the victory of the proletariat, the 
struggle for life might well give birth to new antagonisms. Two ideas 
then intervene, one of which is economic, the identity of the develop- 
ment of production and the development of society, and the other, 
purely systematic, the mission of the proletariat. These two ideas 
reunite in what might be called Marx’s activist passiveness. 

The same economic evolution which in effect concentrates capital 
in a very few hands, makes the antagonism both more violent and, to 
a certain extent, unreal. It seems that, at the highest point of develop- 
ment of the productive forces, the slightest stimulus would lead to 
the proletariat finding itself alone in possession of the means of 
production, already snatched from the grasp of private ownership 
and concentrated in one enormous mass which, henceforth, would be 
held in common. When private property is concentrated in the hands 
of one single owner, it is only separated from collective ownership by 
the existence of one single man. The inevitable result of private 
capitalism is a kind of State capitalism which will then only have to 
be put to the service of the community to give birth to a society where 
capital and labour, henceforth indistinguishable, will produce, in 
one identical advance towards progress, both justice and abundance. 
It is in consideration of this happy outcome that Marx has always 
extolled the revolutionary role played, unconsciously it is true, by the 



bourgeoisie. He spoke of the ‘historic rights* of capitalism, which he 
called a source both of progress and of misery. The historic mission 
and the justification of capitalism are, in his eyes, to prepare the ideal 
conditions for a superior mode of production. This mode of pro- 
duaion is not, in itself, revolutionary; it will only be the crowning 
point of the revolution. Only the fundamental principles of bourgeois 
production are revolutionary. When Marx affirms that humanity 
only sets itself problems that it can solve, he is simultaneously 
demonstrating that the germ of the solution of the revolutionary 
problem is to be found, in principle, in the capitalist system itself. 
Therefore he recommends tolerating the bourgeois State, and even 
helping to build it, rather than returning to a less industrialized form 
of production. The proletariat ‘can and must accept the bourgeois 
revolution as a condition of the working-class revolution*. 

Thus Marx is the prophet of production and we are justified in 
thinking that on this precise point, and on no other, he ignored 
reality in favour of the system. He never ceased defending Ricardo, 
the economist of production in the manner of Manchester, against 
those who accused him of wanting production for production’s sake 
(‘ He was absolutely right ! ’ Marx exclaims) and of wanting it without 
any consideration for mankind. ‘That is precisely his merit’, Marx 
replies, with the same airy indifference as Hegel. What in fact does 
the sacrifice of individual men matter as long as it contributes to the 
salvation of all mankind ! Progress resembles ‘that horrible pagan god 
who only wished to drink nectar from the skulls of his fallen enemies ’. 
But at least it is progress, which will cease to inflict torture after the 
industrial apocalypse when the day of reconciliation comes. 

But if the proletariat cannot avoid this revolution nor avoid being 
put in possession of the means of production, will it at least know 
how to use them for the benefit of all ? Where is the guarantee that, 
in the very bosom of the revolution, orders, classes, and antagonism 
will not arise ? The guarantee lies in Hegel. The proletariat is forced 
to use its wealth for the universal good. It is not the proletariat, it is 
the universal in opposition to the particular, in other words to 
capitalism. The antagonism between capital and the proletariat is the 



last phase of the struggle between the particular and the universal, 
the same struggle which animated the historic tragedy of master and 
slave. At the end of the visionary design constructed by Marx, the 
proletariat will unite all classes and only discard a handful of masters, 
perpetrators of ‘notorious crime’, who will be justly destroyed by the 
revolution. What is more, capitalism, by driving the proletariat to the 
final point of degradation, gradually delivers it from every determina- 
tion that might separate it from other men. It has nothing, neither 
property nor morality nor country. Therefore it clings to nothing but 
the species of which it is henceforth the naked and implacable 
representative. In affirming itself it affirms everything and everyone. 
Not because members of the proletariat are gods, but simply because 
they have been reduced to the most abjectly inhuman condition. 
‘Only the proletariat, totally excluded from this affirmation of their 
personality, are capable of realizing the complete affirmation of 

That is the mission of the proletariat: to bring forth supreme 
dignity from supreme humiliation. Through its suffering and its 
struggles, it is Christ in human form redeeming collective sin from 
alienation. It is, primarily, the multiform bearer of total negation and 
then the herald of definitive affirmation. ‘Philosophy cannot realize 
itself without the disappearance of the proletariat, the proletariat 
cannot be itself without the realization of philosophy,’ and again: 
‘The proletariat can only exist on the basis of world history . . . 
Communist action can only exist as historic reality on the planetary 
scale.’ But this Christ is, at the same time, an avenger. According to 
Marx, he carries out the sentence that private property passed on 
itself. ‘All the houses, in our times, are marked with a mysterious red 
cross. The judge is history, the executioner is the proletariat.’ Thus 
the fulfilment is inevitable. Crisis will succeed crisis,* the degradation 
of the proletariat will become more and more profound, its existence 
will endure until the time of the universal crisis when the world of 
change will vanish and when history, by the supreme act of violence, 

* Every ten or eleven years, Marx prediaed. But the period between the 
recurrence of the cycles will gradually shorten. 



wiD cease to be violent any longer. The kingdom of ends without 
means will have come. 

We can see that this fatalism could be driven (as happened to 
Hegelian thought) to a sort of political quietism by Marxists, like 
Kautsky, for whom it was as little within the power of the proletariat 
to create the revolution as within the power of the bourgeois to 
prevent it. Even Lenin, who was to choose the activist aspect of the 
doctrine, wrote in 1905, in the style of an act of excommunication: 
^ It is a reactionary way of thinking to try to find salvation in the 
working class in any other way but in the top-heavy development of 
capitalism.’ It is not in the nature of economics, according to Marx, 
to make leaps in the dark and it must not be encouraged to gallop 
ahead. It is completely false to say that the socialist reformers 
remained faithful to Marx on this point. On the contrary, fatahsm 
excludes all reforms, in that there would be a risk of mitigating the 
catastrophic aspect of the outcome. The logic of such an attitude 
leads to the approval of everything that tends to increase working- 
class poverty. The worker must be given nothing so that one day he 
can have everything. 

And yet Marx saw the danger of this particular form of quietism. 
Power either does not wait or else it waits indefinitely. A day comes 
when it must be seized and it is the exact definition of this day which 
remains of doubtful clarity to all readers of Marx. On this point he 
never stops contradicting himself. He remarked that society was 
‘historically compelled to pass through a period of diaatorship by the 
working classes’. As for the nature of this dictatorship, his definitions 
are contradictory. We are sure that he condemned the State in no 
uncertain terms saying that its existence and the existence of 
servitude are inseparable. But he protested against Bakunin’s never- 
theless judicious observation of finding the idea of provisional 
dictatorship contrary to what is known as human nature. Marx 
thought, it is true, that the dialectical verities were superior to 
psychological verities. What does the dialectic say? That ‘the 
abolition of the State has no meaning except among communists 
where it is an inevitable result of the suppression of classes, the 



disappearance of which necessarily leads to the disappearance of the 
need for a power organized by one class for the oppression of 
another’. According to the sacred formula the government of people 
was then to be replaced by the administration of affairs. The dialectic 
was therefore explicit and only justified the existence of the pro- 
letarian State for the period necessary for the destruction or inte- 
gration of the bourgeois class. But, unfortimately, the prophecy and 
its attitude of fatahsm allowed other interpretations. If it is certain 
that the kingdom will come, what does time matter? Suffering is 
never provisional for the man who does not believe in the future. But 
one hundred years of suffering are fleeting in the eyes of the man who 
prophesies, for the hundred and first year, the Eternal City. In the 
perspective of the Marxist prophecy, nothing matters. In any event, 
when the bourgeois class has disappeared, the proletariat will establish 
the rule of the universal man at the summit of production, by the 
very logic of productive development. What does it matter that this 
should be accomplished by dictatorship and violence ? In this New 
Jerusalem, echoing with the roar of miraculous machinery, who will 
still remember the cry of the victims ? 

The golden age, postponed until the end of history and coincident, 
to add to its attractions, with an apocalypse, therefore justifies every- 
thing. The prodigious ambitions of Marxism must be considered and 
its inordinate doctrines evaluated, in order to understand that hope 
on such a scale leads to the inevitable neglect of problems which 
tlicrcfore appear to be secondary. ‘Communism in so far as it is real 
appropriation of the human essence by man and for man, in so far 
as it is the return of man to himself as a social being, in other words 
as a human being, a complete conscious return which preserves all > 
the values of the inner movement, this communism, being absolute 
naturalism, coincides with humanism: it is the real end of the quarrel 
between man and nature, between man and man, between essence 
and existence, between externalization and the affirmation of self, 
between liberty and necessity, between the individual and the species. 

It solves the mystery of history and is aware of having solved it.’ It is J 
only the language here that aims at being scientific. Basically, where 



is the difference from Fourier who announces ‘fertile deserts, sea 
water made drinkable and tasting of violets, eternal spring . . / ? The 
eternal springtime of mankind is foretold to us in the language of an 
Encyclical letter. What can man without God want and hope for, if 
not the kingdom of man ? This explains the exaltation of all Marxist 
disciples. ‘ In a society without suffering, it is easy to ignore death,’ 
says one of them. However, and this is the real condemnation of our 
society, fear of death is a luxury which is felt far more by the idler 
than the worker who is stifled by his own occupation. But every kind 
of socialism is Utopian, most of all scientific socialism. Utopia 
replaces God by the future. Then it proceeds to identify the future 
with ethics; the only values are those which serve this particular 
future. For that reason Utopias have almost always been coercive 
and authoritarian. Marx, in so far as he is a Utopian, does not differ 
from his frightening predecessors and one part of the teaching more 
than justifies his successors. 

It has undoubtedly been correct to emphasize the ethical demands 
which form the basis of the Marxist dream. It must, in all fairness, 
be said, before examining the check to Marxism, that in them lie the 
real greatness of Marx. The very core of his theory was that work is 
profoundly dignified and unjustly despised. He rebelled against the 
degradation of work to the level of a commodity and of the worker to 
the level of an object. He reminded the privileged that their privileges 
were not divine and that property was not an eternal right. He gave a 
bad conscience to those who had no right to a clear one and de- 
nounced, with unparalleled profundity, a class whose crime is not so 
much having had power as having used it to advance the ends of a 
mediocre society deprived of any real nobility. To him we owe the 
idea which is the despair of our times - but in this case despair is 
worth more than any hope - that when work is a disgrace, it is not 
life, even though it occupies every moment of a life. Who, despite the 
precensions of this society, can sleep in it in peace, when they know 
that it derives its mediocre pleasures from the work of milhons of 
dead souls ? By demanding for the worker real riches, which are not 
the riches of money but of leisure and creation, he has reclaimed, 



despite all appearance to the contrary, the dignity of man. In doing 
so, and this can be said with conviction, he never wanted the 
additional degradation which has been imposed on man in his name. 
One of his phrases, which for once is clear and trenchant, forever 
denies his triumphant disciples the greatness and the humanity which 
once were his : ‘An end which requires unjust means is not a just end.* 
But Nietzsche’s tragedy is again discovered here. The aims, the 
prophecies are generous and universal, but the doctrine is restrictive 
and the reduction of every value to historic terms leads to the direst 
consequences. Marx thought that historic ends, at least, would prove 
to be moral and rational. That was his Utopia. But Utopia, at least 
in the form he knew it, is destined to serve cynicism of which he 
wanted no part. Marx destro)^ all transcendence, then carries out, by 
himself, the transition from fact to duty. But his concept of duty has 
no other origin but fact. The demand for justice ends in injustice if it 
is not primarily based on an ethical justification of justice: without 
this, crime itself one day becomes a duty. When good and evil are 
reintegrated in time and confused with events, nothing is any longer 
good or bad, but only either premature or out of date. Who will 
decide on the opportunity, if not the opportunist ? Later, say the 
disciples, you shall judge. But the victims will not be there to judge. 
For the victim, the present is the only value, rebellion the only 
action. Messianism, in order to exist, must construct a defence 
against the victims. It is possible that Marx did not want this, but in 
this lies his responsibility which must be examined, that he incurred 
by justifying, in the name of the revolution, the henceforth bloody 
struggle against all forms of rebellion. 


Hegel haughtily brings history to an end in 1807; the disciples of 
Saint-Simon believe that the revolutionary convulsions of 1830 and 
1848 are the last; Comte dies in 1857 preparing to climb into the 



pulpit and preach positivism to a humanity returned at last from the 
path of error. With the same blind romanticism, Marx, in his turn, 
prophesies the classless society and the solution of the mystery of 
historic events. Slightly more circumspect, however, he does not fix 
the date. Unfortunately, his prophecy also described the march of 
history up to the hour of fulfillment; it predicted the trends of events. 
The events and the facts, of course, have forgotten to arrange them- 
selves according to the synthesis ; and this already explains why it has 
been necessary to rally them by force. But above all, the prophecies 
from the moment that they begin to betray the living hopes of 
millions of men, cannot with impunity remain indeterminate. A time 
comes when deception transforms patient hope into furious dis- 
illusionment and when the ends, affirmed with the mania of obstinacy, 
demanded with ever-increasing cruelty, lead to the adoption of other 

The revolutionary movement, at the end of the nineteenth and 
beginning of the twentieth centuries, lived, like the early Christians, 
in the expectation of the end of the world and the advent of the 
proletarian Christ. The passages from Marx already cited give a fair 
idea of the burning hope which inspired the revolutionary spirit of the 
time. Despite partial set-backs, this faith never ceased to increase up 
to the moment when it found itself, in 1917, face to face with the 
partial realization of its dreams. ‘We are fighting for the gates of 
Heaven,’ cried Liebknccht. In 1917 the revolutionary world really 
believed that it had arrived before those gates. Rosa Luxembourg’s 
prophecy was being realized. ‘The revolution will rise resoundingly 
tomorrow to its full height and, to your consternation, will announce 
with the sound of all its trumpets; I was, I am, I shall be.’ The 
Spartakus movement believed that it had achieved the definitive 
revolution because, according to Marx himself, the latter would 
come to pass after the Russian revolution had been consummated by 
a Western revolution. After the revolution of 1917, a Soviet Germany 
would, in fact, have opened the gates of Heaven. But the Spartakus 
movement is crushed, the French general strike of 1920 fails, the 
Italian revolutionary movement is strangled. Liebknecht then 



recognizes that the time is not ripe for revolution. ‘The period 
did not rebel.’ But also, and now we grasp how defeat can excite 
vanquished faith to the point of religious trance: ‘At the crash of 
economic collapse of which the rumblings can already be heard, the 
sleeping soldiers of the proletariat will awake as at the fanfare of the 
Last Judgement and the corpses of the victims of the struggle will 
arise and demand an accounting from those who are loaded down 
v^ith curses.’ While awaiting these events, Liebknecht and Rosa 
Luxembourg are assassinated and Germany rushes toward servitude. 
I'hc Russian revolution remains isolated, living according to its own 
system, still far from the celestial gates, with an apocalypse to organ- 
ize. The Advent is again postponed. Faith is intact, but it totters 
beneath an enormous load of problems and discoveries wliich 
Marxism had not foreseen. The new religion is once more con- 
fronted with Galilee : to preserve its faith, it must deny the sun and 
humiliate free man. 

What does Galilee say, in fact, at this moment? What are the 
errors, demonstrated by history itself, of the prophecy ? We know 
that the economic revolution of the contemporary world refutes a 
certain number of the postulates of Marx. If the revolution is to 
occur at the end of two parallel movements, the indefinite shrinking 
of capital and the indefinite expansion of the proletariat, it will not 
occur or ought not to occur. Capital and proletariat have both been 
equally unfaithful to Marx. The tendency observed in industrial 
England of the nineteenth century has, in certain cases, changed its 
course, and in others become more complex. Economic crises which 
should have occurred with increasing frequency have, on the 
contrary, become more sporadic: capitalism has learned the secrets 
of planned production and has contributed, on its own part, to the 
growth of the Moloch State. Moreover, with the introduction of 
companies in which stock could be held, capital, instead of becoming 
increasingly concentrated, has given rise to a new category of small- 
holders whose very last desire would certainly be to encourage 
strikes. Small enterprises have been, in many cases, destroyed by 
competition as Marx foresaw. But the complexity of modem 



production has generated a multitude of small factories around great 
enterprises. In 1938 Ford was able to announce that five thousand 
two hundred independent workshops supplied him with their 
products. Of course large industries inevitably assimilated these 
enterprises to a certain extent. But the essential thing is that these 
small industrialists form an intermediary social layer which compli- 
cates the scheme that Marx imagined. Finally, the law of con- 
centration has proved absolutely false in the case of agricultural 
economy, which was treated with considerable frivolity by Marx. 
The hiatus is important here. In one of its aspects, the history of 
socialism in our times can be considered as the struggle between the 
proletarian movement and the peasant class. This struggle continues, 
on the historical plane, the nineteenth-century ideological struggle 
between authoritarian socialism and libertarian socialism, of which 
the peasant and artisan origins are quite evident. Thus Marx had, in 
the ideological material of his time, the elements for a study of the 
peasant problem. But his desire to systematize made him over- 
simplify everything. This particular simplification was to prove 
expensive for the kulaks who constituted more than five milHon 
historic exceptions to be brought, by death and deportation, within 
the Marxist pattern. 

The same desire for simplification diverted Marx from the 
phenomenon of the nation in the very century of nationalism. He 
believed that through commerce and exchange, through the very 
victory of the proletariat, the barriers would fall. But it was national 
barriers which brought about the fall of the proletarian ideal. The 
struggle between nations has been proved at least as important, as a 
means of explaining history, as the class struggle. But nations cannot 
be entirely explained by economics; therefore the system ignored 

The proletariat, on its part, did not toe the line. First of all, 
Marx’s fear is confirmed: reforms and trade unions brought about a 
rise in the standard of living and an amelioration in working con- 
ditions. These improvements are very far from constituting an 
equitable settlement of the social problem. But the miserable con- 



dition of the English textile workers, in Marx’s time, far from 
becoming general and even deteriorating, as he would have liked, has 
on the contrary been alleviated. Marx would not complain about this 
today, the equilibrium having been re-established by another error 
in his predictions. It has, in fact, been possible to prove that the most 
efficacious revolutionary or trade union asset has always been the 
existence of a working-class ehte who have not been sterilized by 
hunger. Poverty and degeneration have never ceased to be what they 
were before Marx’s time, and what he did not want to admit that they 
were despite all his observations: factors contributing to servitude 
not to revolution. One-third of working-class Germany was un- 
employed in 1933. Bourgeois society was then obliged to provide a 
means of livelihood for these unemployed, thus bringing about the 
situation which Marx said was essential for revolution. But it is not 
a good thing that future revolutionaries should be put in the situation 
of expecting to be fed by the State. This unnatural habit leads to 
others, which are even less good, and which Hitler made into 

Finally, the proletariat did not increase in numbers indefinitely. 
The very conditions of industrial production, which every Mandst 
is calle J upon to encourage, improved, to a considerable extent, the 
conditioiis of the middle class'^ and even created a new ^ocial 
stratum, the technicians, ^The ideal, so dear to Lenin, of a society in 
which the engineer would at the same time be a labourer is in conflict 
with the facts. The principal fact is that technology, like science, has 
reached such a degree of complication that it is not possible for a 
single man to understand the totality of its principles and applica- '• 
tions. It is almost impossible, for instance, for a physicist today to 
have a complete understanding of the biological science of the times. 
Even within the realms of physics he cannot claim to be equally 
familiar with every branch of the subject. It is the same thing with 
technology. From the moment that productivity, which is considered 

* From 1920 to 1930, in a period of intense productivity, the number of 
metallurgical workers decreased in the U.S.A., while the number of salesmen, 
working for the same industry, almost doubled. 



by both bourgeois and Marxist as a benefit in itself, is developed to 
enormous proportions the division of labour, which Marx thought 
could have been avoided, became inevitable. Every worker has been 
brought to the point of performing a particular function without 
knowing the over-all plan into which his work will fit. Those who 
coordinate individual work have formed, by their very function, a 
class whose social importance is decisive. 

It is only fair to point out that this era of technocracy announced 
by Burnham was described, about twenty years ago, by Simone 
Weil in a form that can be considered complete, without drawing 
Burnham’s unacceptable conclusions. To the two traditional forms 
of oppression known to humanity - oppression by armed force and by 
wealth - Simone Weil adds a third - oppression by occupation. ‘ One 
can abolish the opposition between the buyer and the seller of work’, 
she wrote, ‘without abolishing the opposition between those who 
dispose of the machine and those of whom the machine disposes.* 
The Marxist plan to abolish the degrading opposition of intellectual 
work to manual work has come into conflict with the demands of 
production which, elsewhere, Marx exalted. Marx undoubtedly 
foresaw, in Das i^cz/)/ra/, the importance of the ‘manager’ on the level 
of maximum concentration of capital. But he did not believe that this 
concentration of capital could survive the abolition of private 
property. Division of labour and private property, he said, arc 
identical expressions. History has demonstrated the contrary. The 
ideal regime based on collective property could be defined, according 
to Lenin, as justice plus electricity. In the final analysis it is only 
electricity, without justice. 

The idea of a mission by the proletariat has not, so far, been able 
to fonnulate itself in history : that sums up the check to the Marxist 
prophecy. The failure of the second International has proved that the 
proletariat was influenced by other things as well as its economic 
condition and that, contrary to the famous formula, it was patriotic. 
The majority of the proletariat accepted or submitted to the war and 
collaborated, willy-nilly, in the nationalist excesses of the times. 
Marx intended that the working classes before they triumphed 



should have acquired legal and political acumen. His error only lay 
in believing that extreme poverty, and particularly industrial poverty, 
could lead to political maturity. Moreover, it is quite certain that the 
revolutionary capacity of the masses was curtailed by the decapitation 
of the libertarian revolution, during and after the Commune. After 
all, Marxism easily dominated the working-class movement from 
1872 on, undoubtedly because of its own strength, but also because 
the only socialist tradition which could have opposed it had been 
drowned in blood; there were practically no Marxists amongst the 
insurgents of 1871. This automatic purification of revolution has 
been continued, through the activities of police States, until our 
times. More and more, revolution has found itself delivered into the 
hands of its bureaucrats and doctrinaires on the one hand, and to 
enfeebled and bewildered masses on the other. When the revolu- 
tionary elite are guillotined and when Talleyrand is left ahve, who 
will oppose Bonaparte? But to these historic reasons are added 
economic necessities. The passages by Simone Weil on the condition 
of the factory worker must be read in order to realize to what degree 
of moral exhaustion and silent despair the rationalization of labour 
can lead. Simone Weil is right in saying that the worker’s condition 
is doubly inhumane in that he is first deprived of money and then of 
dignity. Work in which one can have an interest, creative work, even 
though it is badly paid, does not degrade life. Industrial socialism has 
done nothing essential to alleviate the condition of the workers 
because it has not touched on the very principle of production and 
the organization of labour, which it has, on the contrary, extolled. It 
went so far as to offer the worker a historic justification of his lot of 
much the same value as a promise of celestial joy to someone who 
works himself to death; never did it attempt to give him the joy of 
creation. The political form of society is no longer in question at this 
level, but the beliefs of a technical civilization on which capitalism 
and socialism are equally dependent. Any ideas which do not advance 
the solution of this problem hardly touch on the misfortunes of the 

Only through the interplay of economic forces, so much admired 



by Marx, has the proletariat been able to reject the historic mission 
with which Marx had rightly charged it. His error can be excused 
because, confronted with the debasement of the ruling classes, a man 
who has the future of civilization at heart instinctively looks for an 
61ite as a replacement. But this instinctive search is not, in itself alone, 
creative. The revolutionary bourgeoisie seized power in 1789 because 
they already had it. At this period legality, as Jules Monnerot says, 
was lagging behind the faas. The facts were that the bourgeoisie 
were already in possession of the posts of command and of the new 
power ~ money. The proletariat were not at all in the same position, 
having only their poverty and their hopes and being kept in their 
condition of misery by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois class debased 
itself by a mania for production and material power, while the very 
organization of this mania made the creation of an elite impossible. 
But criticism of this organization and the development of rebel 
conscience could, on the contrary, forge a reserve 61ite. Only revolu- 
tionary trade-unionism, under Pelloutier and Sorel, embarked on 
this course and wanted to create, by professional and cultural 
education, new cadres for which a world without honour was calling 
and still calls. But that could not be accomplished in a day and the 
new masters were already on the scene, interested in making imme- 
diate use of human unhappiness for the sake of happiness in the 
distant future, rather than in relieving as much and as soon as 
possible the sufferings of milhons of men. The authoritarian socialists 
deemed that history was going too slowly and that it was necessary, 
in order to hurry it on, to entrust the mission of the proletariat to a 
handful of doctrinaires. For that very reason they have been the first 
to deny this mission. Nevertheless it exists, not in the exclusive sense 
which Marx gives it, but in the sense that a mission exists for any 
human group which knows how to derive pride and fecundity from 
its labours and its sufferings. However, so that it can manifest itself, 
a risk must be tiikcn and confidence put in working-class freedom and 
spontaneity. On the contrary, authoritarian socialism has confiscated 
this living freedom for the benefit of an ideal freedom, which is yet 
to come. In so doing, whether it wished to or not, it reinforced the 



attempt at enslavement begun by industrial capitalism. By the com- 
bined action of these two factors and during a hundred and fifty 
years, except in the Paris of the Commune which was the last refuge 
of rebel revolution, the proletariat has had no other historic mission 
but to be betrayed. The workers fought and died to give power to the 
military or to intellectuals who dreamed of becoming military and 
who would enslave them in their turn. This struggle, however, has 
been the source of their dignity, a fact which is recognized by all who 
have chosen to share their aspirations and their misfortunes. But this 
dignity has been acquired in opposition to the whole clan of old and 
new masters. At the very moment when they dare to make use of it, 
it denies them. In one sense, it announces their eclipse. 

The economic predictions of Marx have, therefore, been at least 
called in question by reality. What remains true, in his vision of the 
economic world, is the establishment of a society more and more 
determined by the rhythm of production. But he shared this concept, 
in the enthusiasm of his period, with bourgeois ideology. The 
bourgeois illusions concerning science and technical progress, shared 
by the authoritarian socialists, gave birth to the civilization of the 
machine-tamers which can, through the stresses of competition and 
the desire for domination, be divided into enemy blocs but which on 
the economic plane is subject to identical laws : the accumulation ol 
capital and nationalized and continually increasing production. The 
political difference, which concerns the degree of omnipotence of the 
State, is appreciable, but can be reduced by economic evolution. 
Only the difference in etliical concepts - formal virtue as opposed to 
historic cynicism - seems substantial. But the imperative of pro- 
duction dominates both universes and makes them, on the economic 
plane, one world. 

In any event, if the economic imperative can no longer be denied, 
its consequences arc not what Marx imagined. Economically speaking 
capitalism becomes oppressive through the phenomenon of accumu- 
lation. It is oppressive through being what it is, it accumulates in 
order to increase what it is, to exploit it all the more, and accordingly 
to accumulate still more. At that moment accumulation would only 



be necessary to a very small extent in order to guarantee social 
benefits. But the revolution, in its turn, becomes industrialized and 
realizes when accumulation is an attribute of technology itself, and 
not of capitalism, that the machine finally conjures up the machine. 
Every form of collectivity, fighting for survival, is forced to accumu- 
late instead of distributing its revenues. It accumulates in order to 
increase and by doing so increases its power. Whether bourgeois or 
socialist, it postpones justice for a later date, for the benefit of power 
alone. But power opposes other forms of power. It arms and rearms 
because others are arming and rearming. It docs not stop accumu- 
lating and will never cease to do so until the day, perhaps, when it 
will reign alone on earth. Moreover, for that to happen, it must pass 
through a war. Until that day the proletariat will only receive the 
bare minimum for its subsistence. The revolution compels itself to 
construct, at a great expenditure in human lives, the industrial and 
capitalist intermediary which its own system demands. Revenue is 
replaced by human labour. Slavery then becomes the general con- 
dition and the gates of Heaven remain locked. Such is the economic 
law governing a world which lives by the cult of production, and the 
reality is even more bloody than the law. Revolution, in the impasses 
where it has been led by its bourgeois opponents and its nihilist 
supporters, is nothing but slavery. Unless it changes its principles 
and its path, it can have no other final result but servile rebellions, 
crushed by bloodshed, or the hideous prospect of atomic suicide. The 
will to power, the nihilist struggle for domination and authority have 
done considerably more than sweep away the Marxist Utopia. This 
has become in its turn an historic fact destined to be put to use like all 
the other historic facts. This idea, which was to dominate history, 
has become lost in history; the mastery of every means has been 
reduced to a means in itself and cynically manipulated for the most 
banal and bloody ends. The uninterrupted development of pro- 
duction has not ruined the capitalist regime to the benefit of the 
revolution. It has equally been the ruin of both bourgeois and 
revolutionary society to the benefit of an idol, a Gorgon’s head, 
contorted by dreams of unbridled power. 



How could a so-called scientific socialism conflict, to such a point, 
with facts ? The answer is easy: it was not scientific. On the contrary, 
its defeat resulted from a method ambiguous enough to wish to be 
simultaneously determinist and prophetic, dialectic and dogmatic. 
If the mind is only the reflection of events, it cannot anticipate their 
progress, except by hypothesis. If Marxist theory is determined by 
economics, it can describe the past history of production, and not its 
future which remains in the realms of probability. The task of 
historic materialism can only be to establish a method of criticism 
of contemporary society ; it is only capable of making suppositions, 
unless it abandons its scientific attitude, about the society of the 
future. Moreover, is it not for this reason that its most important work 
is called Capital and not Revolution ? Marx and the Marxists allowed 
themselves to prophesy the future and the triumph of communism 
to the detriment of their postulates and of their scientific method. 

This prediction cannot be scientific, on the contrary, unless they 
stop prophesying definitively. Marxism is not scientific: at the best, 
it has scientific prejudices. It brought out into the open the profound 
difference between scientific reasoning, that fruitful instrument of 
research, of thought, and even of rebellion, and historic reasoning, 
which German ideology invented by its negation of all principles. 
Historic reasoning is not a type of reasoning which can within the 
framework of its own functions pass judgement on the world. While 
pretending to judge it, it really determines its course. Essentially a 
part of events, it directs them and is simultaneously pedagogic and 
all-conquering. Moreover, its more abstruse descriptions conceal the 
most simple truths. If man is reduced to being nothing but a 
character in history, he has no other choice but to subside into the 
sound and fury of a completely irrational history or to endow history 
with the form of human reason. Therefore the history of con- 
temporary nihilism is nothing but a prolonged endeavour to give 
order, by human forces alone and simply by force, to a history no 
longer endowed with order. This pseudo-reasoning ends by identify- 
ing itself with cunning and strategy, while waiting to culminate in the 
ideological Empire. What part could science play in this concept ? 



Nothing is less determined on conquest than reason. History is not 
made with scientific scruples, we are even condemned to not making 
history from the moment when we claim to act with scientific 
objectivity. Reason does not preach, or if it does, it is no longer 
reason. That is why historic reason is an irrational and romantic form 
of reason, which sometimes recalls the false logic of the insane and the 
mystic affirmation of the Word, of former times. 

The only really scientific aspect of Marxism is to be found in its 
preliminary rejection of myths and in its exposure of the crudest kind 
of interests. But in this respect Marx is not more scientific in his 
attitude than La Rochefoucauld; and that is just the attitude that he 
abandons when he embarks on prophecy. Therefore it is not surpri- 
sing that, to make Marxism scientific and to preserve this fiction 
which is very useful in this century of science, it has been a necessary 
first step to render science Marxist through terror. The progress of 
science, since Marx, has roughly consisted of replacing determinism 
and the rather crude mechanism of its period by a doctrine of pro- 
visional probability. Marx wrote to Engels that the Darwinian theory 
constituted the very foundation of their method. For Marxism to 
remain infallible, it has therefore been necessary to deny all biological 
discoveries made since Darwin. As it happens that all discoveries since 
the sudden mutations established by De Vries have consisted of intro- 
ducing, contrary to the doctrines of determinism, the idea of hazard 
into biology, it has been necessary to entrust Lyssenko with the task 
of disciplining chromosomes and of demonstrating once again the 
truth of the most elementary determinism. That is ridiculous : to put 
the pohce force under Flaubert’s Monsieur Homais would be no 
more ridiculous and this is the twentieth century. As far as that is 
concerned, the twentieth century has also witnessed the denial of the 
principle of indeterminism in science, of limited relativity, of the 
quantum theory,^ and, finally, of every general tendency of con- 
temporary science. Marxism is only scientific today in defiance of 
Heisenborg, Bohr, Einstein, and all the greatest minds of our time. 

* Roger Callois remarks that Stalinism objects to the quantum theory but 
does not hesitate to make use of atomic science which is derived from it. 



After all there is really nothing mysterious about the principle which 
consists of using scientific reasoning to the advantage of a prophecy. 
This has already been named the principle of authority and it is this 
that guides the Churches when they wish to subject living reason to 
dead faith and freedom of the intellect to the maintenance of tem- 
poral power. Finally, there remains of Marx’s prophecy - henceforth 
in conflict with its two principles, economy and science - only the 
passionate annunciation of an event which will take place in the very 
far future. The only recourse of the Marxists consists of saying that 
the delays are simply longer than was imagined and that one day, far 
away in the future, the end will justify all. And so the problem which 
is posed is of another order. If the struggle waged by one or two 
generations throughout a period of economic evolution which is, 
perforce, beneficial, suffices to bring about a classless society, then 
the necessary sacrifice becomes comprehensible to the man with a 
militant turn of mind ; the future for him has a concrete aspect - the 
aspect of his grandchild for instance. But if, when the sacrifice of 
several generations has proved insufficient, we must then embark on 
an infinite period of universal strife one thousand times more des- 
tructive than before, then the conviction of faith is needed in order to 
accept the necessity of killing and dying. This new faith is no more 
founded on pure reason than was the faith of the ancients. 

In what terms is it possible to imagine this end of history ? Marx 
did not fall back on Hegel’s terms. He said, rather obscurely, that 
communism was only a necessary aspect of the future of humanity, 
and did not comprise the entire future. But either communism does 
not terminate the history of contradictions and suffering, or it does 
terminate it, and it is no longer possible to imagine the continuation 
of history except as an advance towards this perfected form of society. 
Thus a mystic idea is arbitrarily introduced into a description which 
claims to be scientific. The final disappearance of political economy - 
the favourite theme of Marx and Engels - indicates the end of all 
suffering. Economics, in fact, coincide with pain and suffering in 
history, which disappear with the disappearance of history. We arrive 
at last in the Garden of Eden. 



We come no nearer to solving the problem by declaring that it is 
not a question of the end of history, but of a leap into the midst of a 
different history. We can only imagine this other history in terms of 
our own history: for man they are both one and the same thing. 
Moreover, this other history poses the same dilemma. Either it is not 
the solution of all contradictions and we suffer, die and kill for almost 
nothing, or it is the solution of contradictions and therefore, to all 
intents and purposes, terminates our history. 

Can it be said, therefore, that this city of ends has a meaning ? It 
has, in terms of the sacred universe, once the religious postulate has 
been admitted. The world was created, it will have aa end; Adam left 
Eden, humanity must come to it. It has no meaning, in the historic 
universe, if the dialectical postulate is admitted. The dialectic cor- 
rectly applied cannot and must not have a stop. The antagonistic 
terms of an historical situation can negate each other and then be 
surmounted in a new synthesis. But there is no reason why this new 
synthesis should be better than the original situation. Or rather there 
is no reason for supposing that, if one arbitrarily imposes an end to the 
dialectic, one therefore applies a judgement based on outside values. 
If the classless society is going to terminate history, then capitalist 
society is, in effect, superior to feudal society to the extent that it 
brings the advent of this classless society still nearer. But if the 
dialectic postulate is admitted at all, it must be admitted entirely. 
Just as aristocratic society has been succeeded by a society without an 
aristocracy but with classes, it must be concluded that the society of 
classes will be succeeded by a classless society, but animated by a new 
antagonism still to be defined. A movement which is refused a begin- 
ning cannot have an end. ‘If socialism’, says an anarchist essayist 
‘is an eternal evolution, its means are its end.’ More precisely, it has 
no ends, it only has means which are guaranteed by nothing unless by 
a value foreign to evolution. In this sense, it is correct to remark that 
the dialectic is not and cannot be revolutionary. It is only from our 
point of view nihilist - an absolutist movement which aims at denying 
everything which is not itself. 

There is no reason, therefore, in this universe to imagine the end 



of history. However, that is the only justification for the sacrifices 
demanded of humanity in the name of Marxism. But it has no other 
reasonable basis but a petitio principii which introduces into history - 
a kingdom which was meant to be unique and self-sufficient -- a value 
foreign to history. Since that value is, at the same time, foreign to 
ethics, it is not, properly speaking, a value on which one can base one’s 
conduct, it is a dogma without foundation that can be adopted only as 
the desperate effort to escape of a mind which is being stifled by 
solitude or by nihilism, or a value which is going to be imposed by 
those whom dogma profits. The end of history is not an exemplary or 
a perfectionist value : it is an arbitrary and terroristic principle. 

Marx recognized that all revolutions before his time had failed. 
But he claimed that the revolution announced by him must succeed 
definitively. Up to now, the workers’ movement has lived on this 
affirmation which has been continually belied by acts and of which it is 
high time that the falsehood should be calmly denounced. In pro- 
portion as the prophecy was postponed, the affirmation of the coming 
of the final kingdom, which could only find the most feeble support 
in reason, became an article of faith. The sole value of the Marxist 
world henceforth resides, despite Marx, in a dogma imposed on an 
entire ideological empire. The kingdom of ends is used, like the 
ethics of eternity and the Kingdom of Heaven, for purposes of social 
mystification. Elie Halevy declared himself unqualified to say if 
socialism was going to lead to the universalization of the Swiss 
repubhc or to European Caesarism. Nowadays we are better in- 
formed. The prophecies of Nietzsche, on this point at least, are 
justified. Marxism is, henceforth, to win fame, in defiance of its own 
teachings and, by an inevitable process of logic, by intellectual 
Caesarism - which we must now finally describe. The last representa- 
tive of the struggle of justice against grace, it takes over, without 
having wanted to do so, the struggle of justice against truth. How to 
live without grace - that is the question that dominates the nineteenth 
century. ‘By justice,’ answered all those who did not want to accept 
absolute nihilism. To the people who despaired of the Kingdom of 
Heaven, they promised the kingdom of men. The preaching of the 



City of humanity increased in fervour up to the end of the nineteenth 
century when it became really visionary in tone and placed scientific 
certainties in the service of Utopia. But the kingdom has retreated 
into the distance, gigantic wars have ravaged the oldest of countries of 
Europe, the blood of rebels has bespattered walls, and total justice 
has approached not a step nearer. The question of the twentieth 
century - for which the terrorists of 1905 died and which tortures the 
contemporary world - has gradually been specified: how to live 
without grace and without justice ? 

Only nihilism, and not rebellion, has answered that question. Up 
to now, only nihilism has spoken, returning once more to the theme 
of the romantic rebels : ‘ Frenzy’. Frenzy, in terms of history, is called 
power. The will to power came to take the place of the will to justice, 
pretending at first to be identified with it and then relegating it to a 
place somewhere at the end of history, waiting until such time as 
nothing remains on earth to dominate. Thus the ideological conse- 
quence has triumphed over the economic consequence : the history of 
Russian communism gives the lie to every one of its principles. Once 
more we find, at the end of this long journey, metaphysical rebellion, 
which, this time, advances to the clash of arms and the whispering of 
passwords, forgetful of its real principles, burying its solitude in the 
bosom of armed crowds, covering the emptiness of its negations with 
obstinate scholasticism, still directed towards the future which it has 
made its only god, but separated from it by a multitude of nations to 
overthrow and continents to dominate. With action as its unique 
principle, and with the kingdom of man as an alibi, it has already 
begun, in the east of Europe, to construct its own armed camp, face 
to face with other armed camps. 


Marx never dreamed of such a terrifying apotheosis. Nor, indeed, did 
Lenin although he took a decisive step towards establishing a military 



empire. As good a strategist as he was a mediocre philosopher, he 
first of all posed himself the problem of the seizure of power. Let us 
note, immediately, that it is absolutely false to talk, as is often done, 
of Lenin’s Jacobinism. Only his idea of units of agitators and revolu- 
tionaries is Jacobin. The Jacobins believed in principles and in virtue; 
they died because they had to deny them. Lenin only believes in the 
revolution and in the virtue of expediency. ‘One must be prepared 
for every sacrifice, to use if necessary every stratagem, ruse, illegal 
method, to be determined to conceal the truth, for the sole purpose of 
penetrating the labour unions and of accomplishing, despite every- 
thing, the communist task.’ The struggle against formal morality, 
inaugurated by Hegel and Marx, is found again in Lenin with his 
criticism of inefficacious revolutionary attitudes. Complete dominion 
was the aim of this movement. 

If we examine the two works written at the beginning and at the 
end of his career as an agitator, one is struck by the fact that he never 
ceased to fight mercilessly against the sentimental forms of revolu- 
tionary action. He wanted to abolish the morality of revolutionary 
action because he believed, correctly, that revolutionary power could 
not be established while still respecting the ten commandments. 
When he appears, after his first experiences, on the stage of history 
where he was to play such an important role, to see him take the 
world so freely and so naturally as it had been shaped by the ideology 
and the economy of the preceding century, one would imagine him to 
be the first man of a new era. Completely impervious to anxiety, to 
nostalgia, to ethics, he takes command ; looks for the best method of 
making the machine run and decides that certain virtues are suitable 
for the driver of history’s chariot and that others are not. He gropes a 
little at first and hesitates as to whether Russia should first pass 
through the capitalist and industrial phase. But this comes to the 
same as doubting whether the revolution can take place in Russia. He 
himself is Russian and his task is to make the Russian Revolution. 
He jettisons economic fatalism and embarks on action. He roundly 
declares, from 1902 on, that the workers will never elaborate an 
independent ideology on their own. He denies the spontaneity of the 



masses. Socialist doctrine supposes a scientific basis which only the 
intellectuals can give it. When he says that all distinctions between 
workers and intellectuals must be effaced, what he means is that it is 
impossible to be proletarian and know better than the proletariat what 
their interests are. He then congratulates Lassalle for having carried 
on a tenacious struggle against the spontaneity of the masses. 
‘Theory’, he says, ‘should subordinate spontaneity.’ In plain 
language, that means that revolution needs leaders and theorists. 

He attacks both reformism, which he considers guilty of dissipating 
revolutionary strength, and terrorism, which he thinks is only an 
exemplary and inefficacious attitude. The revolution, before being 
either economic or sentimental, is military. Until the day that the 
revolution breaks out, revolutionary action is identified with strategy. 
Autocracy is its enemy, whose main source of strength is the police 
force which is nothing but a corps of professional political soldiers. 
The conclusion is simple. ‘The struggle against the political police 
demands special qualities, in fact, demands professional revolu- 
tionaries.’ The revolution will have its professional army as well as 
the masses which can be conscripted when needed. This corps of 
agitators must be organized long before the mass is organized. A 
network of agents is the expression that Lenin uses, thus announcing 
the reign of the secret society and of the realist monks of the revolu- 
tion: ‘We are the young Turks of the revolution,’ he said, ‘with 
something of the Jesuit added.’ From that moment the proletariat no 
longer has a mission. It is only one powerful means, among others, in 
the hands of the revolutionary ascetics. 

The problem of the seizure of power brings in its train the problem 
of the State. The State and the Revolution (1917)5 which deals with 
this subject, is the strangest and most contradictory of pamphlets. 
Lenin employs in it his favourite method, which is the method of 
authority. With the help of Marx and Engels, he begins by taking a 
stand against any kind of reformism which would claim to utilize the 
bourgeois State - that organism of domination of one class over 
another. The bourgeois State owes its survival to the police and to 
the army because it is primarily an instrument of oppression. It 



reflects both the irreconcilable antagonism of the classes and the 
forcible subjugation of this antagonism. This authority of fact is only 
worthy of contempt. ‘Even the head of the military power of a 
civilized State must envy the head of the clan whom patriarchal 
society surrounded with voluntary respect not with respect imposed 
by the truncheon.’ Moreover, Engels has firmly established that the 
concept of the State and the concept of a free society are irrecon- 
cilable. ‘Classes will disappear as ineluctably as they appeared. With 
the disappearance of classes the State will inevitably disappear. The 
society which reorganizes production on the basis of the free and 
equal association of the producers will relegate the machine of State 
to the place it deserves : to the museum of antiquities, side by side 
with the spinning-wheel and the bronze axe.’ 

Doubtless this explains why inattentive readers have ascribed the 
reason for writing The State and the Revolution to Lenin’s anarchistic 
tendencies and have regretted the peculiar posterity of a doctrine so 
severe about the army, the police, the truncheon, and bureaucracy. 
But Lenin’s points of view, in order to be understood, must always be 
considered in terms of strategy. If he defends, so very energetically, 
Engels’ thesis about the disappearance of the bourgeois State, it is 
because he wants, on the one hand, to put an obstacle in the way of the 
pure ‘economism’ of Plekhanov and Kautsky and, on the other, to 
demonstrate that Kerensky’s government is a bourgeois government 
which must be destroyed. One month later, morcoever, he does 
destroy it. 

It was also necessary to answer those who objected to the fact that 
the revolution itself had need of an administrative and repressive 
apparatus. There again, Marx and Engels are largely used to prove, 
authoritatively, that the proletarian State is not a State organized on 
the lines of other States, but a State which, by definition, is in the 
process of withering away. ‘As soon as there is no longer a social class 
which must be kept oppressed ... a State ceases to be necessary. The 
first act by which the [proletarian] State really establishes itself as the 
representative of an entire society - the seizure of the society’s means 
of production - is, at the same time, the last real act of the State. For 



the government of people is substituted the administration of things. 

. . . The State is not abolished, it perishes.’ The bourgeois State is 
first suppressed by the proletariat. Then, but only then, the pro- 
letarian State fades away. The diaatorship of the proletariat is 
necessary - first, to crush or suppress what remains of the bourgeois 
class; secondly, to bring about the socialization of the means of pro- 
duction. Once these two tasks are accomplished, it immediately begins 
to wither away. 

Lenin, therefore, begins from the firm and indisputable principle 
that the State dies as soon as the socialization of the means of pro- 
duction is achieved, and the exploiting class has consequently been 
suppressed. Yet, in the same pamphlet, he ends by justifying the 
preservation, even after the socialization of the means of production 
and, without any predictable end, of the dictatorship of a revolu- 
tionary fraction over the rest of the people. The pamphlet, which 
makes continuous reference to the experiences of the Commune, 
flatly contradicts the contemporary federalist and anti-authoritarian 
ideas which produced the Commune: and it is equally opposed to the 
optimistic forecasts of Marx and Engels. The reason for this is clear; 
Lenin had not forgotten that the Commune failed. As for the means 
of such a surprising demonstration, they were even more simple: 
with each new difficulty encountered by the revolution, the State as 
described by Marx is endowed with a supplementary prerogative. Ten 
pages farther on, without any kind of transition, Lenin in effect 
affirms that power is necessary to crush the resistance of the exploiters 
‘and also to direct the great mass of the population, peasantry, lower 
middle classes, and semi-proletariat, in the management of the 
Socialist economy’. The shift here is undeniable, the provisional 
State of Marx and Engels is charged with a new mission which risks 
prolonging its life indefinitely. Already we can perceive the contra- 
diction of the Stalinist regime in conflict with its official philosophy. 
Either this regime has realized the classless Socialist society and the 
maintenance of a formidable apparatus of repression is not justified in 
Marxist terms, or it has not realized the classless society and has 
therefore proved that Marxist doctrine is erroneous and, in particular, 



that the socialization of the means of production does not mean the 
disappearance of classes. Confronted with its official doctrine, the 
regime is forced to choose: the doctrine is false or the regime has 
betrayed it. In fact, together with Nechayev and Tkachev, it is 
Lassalle, the inventor of State Socialism, whom Lenin has caused to 
triumph in Russia, to the detriment of Marx. From this moment on, 
the history of the interior struggles of the party, from Lenin to Stalin, 
is summed up in the struggle between the workers’ democracy and 
military and bureaucratic dictatorship; in other words, between 
justice and expediency. 

There is a moment’s doubt about whether Lenin is not going to 
find a kind of means of conciliation when we hear him praising the 
measures adopted by the Commune : elected, revocable functionaries 
remunerated like workers, and replacement of industrial bureau- 
cracy by direct workers’ management. We even catch a glimpse of a 
federalist Lenin who praises the institution and representation of the 
Communes. But it becomes rapidly clear that this federalism is only 
extolled to the extent that it signifies the abolition of Parliamenta- 
rianism. Lenin, in defiance of every historic truth, calls it centralism 
and immediately puts the accent on the idea of the dictatorship of the 
proletariat, while reproaching the anarchists for their intransigence 
concerning the State, At this point, a new affirmation, based on 
Engels, is introduced which justifies the continuation of the dictator- 
ship of the proletariat after Socialization, after the disappearance of 
the bourgeois class, and even after control by the masses has finally 
been achieved. The preservation of authority will now have as limits 
those that are prescribed for it by the very conditions of production. 
For example, the final withering away of the State will coincide with 
the moment when accommodation can be provided for all, free of 
charge. It is the higher phase of communism: ‘to each according to 
his needs’. Until then, the State will continue. 

How rapid will be the development towards this higher phase of 
communism when each shall receive according to his needs ? ‘ That, 
we do not and cannot know. . . . We have no gifts which allow us to 
solve these questions.’ ‘For the sake of greater clarity’, Lenin affirms 



with his customary arbitrariness, ‘it has never been vouchsafed to 
any communist to guarantee the advent of the higher phase of 
communism.’ It can be said that, at this point, freedom definitely 
died. From the rule of the masses and the concept of the proletarian 
revolution we first pass on to the idea of a revolution made and direc- 
ted by professional agents. The relentless criticism of the State is then 
reconciled with the necessary, but provisional, dictatorship of the 
proletariat, embodied in its leaders. Finally, it is announced that the 
end of this provisional condition cannot be foreseen and that, what 
is more, no one has ever presumed to promise that there will be an 
end. After that, it is logical that the autonomy of the Soviets should 
be contested, Maklino betrayed, and the sailors of Kronstadt crushed 
by the party. 

Undoubtedly, many of the affirmation's of Lenin, who was a pas- 
sionate lover of justice, can still be opposed to the Stalinist regime: 
mainly, the notion of the withering away of the State. Even if it is 
admitted that the proletarian State cannot disappear before many 
years have passed, it is still necessary, according to Marxist doctrine, 
that it should tend to disappear and become less and less restrictive 
so that it can call itself proletarian. It is certain that Lenin believed 
this trend to be inevitable and that, in this particular sense, he has 
been ignored. For more than thirty years the proletarian State has 
shown no signs of progressive anaemia: on the contrary, it seems to be 
enjoying increasing strength. Meanwhile, in a lecture at the Sverdlov 
University two years later, under the pressure of outside events and 
interior realities, Lenin spoke with a precision which left little doubt 
about the indefinite continuation of the proletarian super-State. 
‘With tliis machine, or rather this weapon [the State], we shall crush 
every form of exploitation, and when there are no longer any pos- 
sibilities of exploitation left on earth, no more people owning land or 
factories, no more people gorging themselves under the eyes of others 
who are starving, when such things become impossible, then and 
only then shall we cast this machine aside. Then, there will be 
neither State nor exploitation. Therefore as long as there exists on 
earth, and no longer in a specific society, one single oppressed person 



and one proprietor, the State will continue to exist. It also will be 
obliged to increase in strength during this period, so as to vanquish 
one by one the injustices, the governments responsible for injustice, 
tlie obstinately bourgeois nations, and the people who are blind to 
their own interests. And when, on an earth which has finally been 
subdued and purged of enemies, the final iniquity shall have been 
drowned in the blood of the just and the unjust, then the State, 
which has reached the limit of all power, a monstrous idol covering 
the entire earth, will be discreetly absorbed into the silent city of 

Under the easily predictable pressure of adverse imperialism, the 
imperialism of justice was born, in reality, with Lenin. But im- 
perialism, even the imperialism of justice, has no other end but 
defeat or world empire. Until then, it has no other means but in- 
justice. From now on the doctrine is definitively identified with the 
prophecy. For the sake of justice in the far-away future, it authorizes 
injustice throughout the entire course of history and becomes the 
type of mystification which Lenin detested more than anything in the 
world. It contrives the acceptance of injustice, crime, and falsehood 
by the promise of a miracle. Still greater production, still more power, 
uninterrupted labour, incessant suffering, permanent war, and then 
a moment will come when universal bondage in the totalitarian em- 
pire will be miraculously changed into its opposite: free leisure in a 
universal republic. Pseudo-revolutionary mystification has now 
acquired a formula: all freedom must be crushed in order to con- 
quer the empire and one day the empire will be the equivalent of 
freedom. And so the way to unity passes through totality. 


Totality is, in effect, nothing other than the ancient dream of unity 
common to both believers and rebels, but projected horizontally on 
to an earth deprived of God. To renounce every value, therefore. 



amounts to renouncing rebellion in order to accept the empire and 
slavery. Criticism of formal values cannot pass over the concept of 
freedom. Once the impossibility has been recognized of creating, by 
means of the forces of rebellion alone, the free individual of whom the 
romantics dreamed, freedom itself has also been incorporated in the 
movement of history. It has become freedom fighting for existence, 
which, in order to exist, must create itself. Identified with the dyna- 
mism of history, it cannot play its proper role until history comes to a 
stop, in the realization of the Universal City. Until then, every one of 
its victories will lead to an antithesis which will render it pointless. 
The German nation frees itself from its oppressors but at the price 
of the freedom of every German. The individuals under a totalitarian 
regime are not free, even though man in the collective sense is free. 
Finally, when the empire delivers the entire human species, freedom 
win reign over herds of slaves who at least will be free in relation to 
God and, in general, to every kind of transcendence. The dialectic 
miracle, the transformation of quantity into quality is explained here : 
it is the decision to call total servitude freedom. Moreover, as in all 
the examples cited by Hegel and Marx, there is no objective trans- 
formation, but only a subjective change of denomination. In other 
words, there is no miracle. If the only hope of nihilism lies in thinking 
that millions of slaves can one day constitute a humanity which will 
be freed forever, then history is nothing but a desperate dream. 
Historic thought was to deliver man from subjection to a divinity; 
but this liberation demanded of him the most absolute subjection to 
historical evolution. Then man takes refuge in the concept of the 
permanence of the party in the same way that he formerly prostrated 
himself before the altar. That is why the era which dares to claim that 
it is the most rebellious that has ever existed only offers a choice of 
various types of conformity. The real passion of the twentieth 
century is servitude. 

But total freedom is no more easy to conquer than individual free- 
dom. To insure man’s control of the world it is necessary to suppress, 
in the world and in man, everything that escapes the empire, every- 
thing that docs not come under the reign of quantity: and this is an 



endless undertaking. The empire must embrace time, space, and 
people which comprise the three dimensions of history. It is simul- 
taneously war, obscurantism, and tyranny, desperately affirming that 
one day it will be liberty, fraternity, and truth; the logic of its 
postulates obliges it to do so. There is undoubtedly in Russia today, 
and even in its communist doctrines, a truth which denies Stalinist 
ideology. But this ideology has its logic which must be isolated and 
exposed if we wish the revolutionary spirit to escape final disgrace. 

The cynical intervention of the armies of the Western Powers 
against the Soviet Revolution demonstrated, among other things, to 
the Russian revolutionaries that war and nationalism were realities 
in the same category as the class struggle. Without an international 
solidarity of the working classes, a solidarity which would come into 
play automatically, no interior revolution could be considered hkely 
to survive unless an international order were created. From then on 
it was necessary to admit that the Universal City could only be built 
on two conditions - either by almost simultaneous revolutions in 
every big country, or by the liquidation, through war, of the bourgeois 
nations : permanent revolution or permanent war. We know that the 
first point of view failed to establish itself. The revolutionary move- 
ments in Germany, Italy, and France marked the high point in 
revolutionary hopes and aspirations. But the crushing of these 
revolutions and the ensuing reinforcement of capitalist regimes has 
made war the reality of the revolution. Thus the philosophy of the 
age of enlightenment finally led to the Europe of the black-out. By 
the logic of history and of doctrine, the Universal City, which was to 
have been realized by the spontaneous insurrection of the oppressed, 
has been little by little replaced by the empire imposed by means of 
power. Engels, with the approval of Marx, dispassionately accepted 
this prospect when he wrote in answer to Bakunin’s Appeal to the 
Slavs: ‘The next world war will cause the disappearance from the 
surface of the globe, not only of reactionary classes and d3masties, 
but of whole races of reactionaries. That also is part of progress.’ That 
particular form of progress, in Engels’ mind, was destined to elimi- 
nate the Russia of the Czars. Today the Russian nation has reversed 



the direction of progress. War, cold and lukewarm, is the slavery 
imposed by world empire. But now that it has become imperialist, 
the revolution is in an impasse. If it does not renounce its false 
principles in order to return to the origins of rebellion, it only means 
the continuation, for several generations and until capitalism spon- 
taneously decomposes, of a total dictatorship over hundreds of 
millions of men; or, if it wants to precipitate the advent of the 
Universal City, it only signifies the atomic war which it does not 
want and after which any city whatsoever will only be able to con- 
template utter ruin. World revolution, by the very laws of the history 
it so imprudently deified, is condemned to police domination or to 
the bomb. At the same time, it finds itself confronted with yet another 
contradiction. The sacrifice of ethics and virtue, the acceptance of all 
the means that it constantly justified by the end it pursued, can only 
be accepted, if absolutely necessary, in terms of an end which is 
reasonably likely to be realized. The cold war supposes, by the 
indefinite prolongation of dictatorship, the indefinite negation of this 
end. The danger of war, moreover, makes this end highly unlikely. 
The extension of the empire over the face of the earth is an inevitable 
necessity for twentieth-century revolution. But this necessity con- 
fronts it with a final dilemma : to construct new principles for itself 
or to renounce justice and peace whose definitive reign it always 

While waiting to dominate space, the empire sees itself also com- 
pelled to reign over time. In denying every last truth, it is compelled 
to go to the point of denying the very lowest form of truth - the truth 
of history. It has transported revolution, which is still impossible on a 
world-wide scale, back into a past which it is determined to deny. 
Even that, too, is logical. Any kind of coherence, which is not purely 
economic, between the past and the future of humanity, supposes a 
constant which, in its turn, can lead to a belief in a human nature. 
The profound coherence that Marx, who was a man of culture, had 
perceived as existing between all civilizations, threatened to swamp 
his thesis and to bring to light a natural continuity, far broader in 
scope than economic continuity. Little by little, Russian conununism 



has been forced to bum its bridges, to introduce a solution of con- 
tinuity into the problem of historical evolution. The negation of 
every genius who proves to be a heretic (and almost all of them do), 
the denial of the benefits of civilization, of art - to the infinite degree 
in which it escapes from history - and the renunciation of vital 
traditions, has gradually forced contemporary Marxism within 
narrower and narrower limits. It has not sufficed for Marxism to 
deny or to silence the tilings, in the history of the world, which 
cannot be assimilated by its doctrine, nor to reject the discoveries of 
modern science. It has also had to rewrite history, even the most 
recent and the best known, even the history of the party and of the 
revolution. Year by year, sometimes month by month, Pravda cor- 
rects itself and rewritten editions of the official history books follow 
one another off the presses. Lenin is censored, Marx is not published. 
At this point a comparison with religious obscurantism is no longer 
even fair. The Church never went so far as to decide that the divine 
manifestation was embodied in two, then in four, or in three, and 
then again in two, persons. The acceleration of events which is part 
of our times also affects the fabrication of truth which, accomplished 
at this speed, becomes pure fantasy. As in the fairy story, in which all 
the looms of an entire town wove the empty air to provide clothes for 
the king, thousands of men, whose strange profession it is, rewrite a 
presumptuous version of history which is destroyed the same evening 
while waiting for the calm voice of a child to proclaim suddenly that 
the king is naked. This small voice, the voice of rebellion, will 
then be saying, what all the world can see already, that a revolution 
which, in order to last, is condemned to deny its universal voca- 
tion, or to renounce itself in order to be universal, is hving by false 

Meanwhile, these principles continue to dominate the lives of 
millions of men. The dream of empire, held in check by the realities 
of time and space, gratifies its desires on humanity. People are not 
only hostile to the empire as individuals : in that case the traditional 
methods of terror would suffice. They arc hostile to it in so far as 
human nature, to date, has never been able to live by history alone 



and has always escaped from it by some means. The empire supposes 
a negation and a certainty : the certainty of the infinite malleability of 
man and the negation of human nature. Propaganda techniques serve 
to measure the degree of this malleability and try to make reflection 
and conditioned reflex coincide. Propaganda makes it possible to sign 
a pact with those who for years have been designated as the mortal 
enemy. Even more, it allows the psychological effect thus obtained 
to be reversed and the people, once again, to be aligned against this 
same enemy. The experiment has not yet been brought to an end, but 
its principle is logical. If there is no human nature, then the malle- 
ability of man is, in fact, infinite. Political realism, on this level, is 
nothing but unbridled romanticism, a romanticism of expediency. 

In this way it is possible to explain why Russian Marxism rejects, 
in its entirety and even though it knows very well how to make use of 
it, the world of the irrational. The irrational can serve the empire as 
well as refute it. The irrational escapes calculation and calculation 
alone must reign in the empire. Man is only an interplay of forces 
who can be rationally influenced. A few thoughtless Marxists were 
rash enough to imagine that they could reconcile their doctrine with 
Freud’s for example. Their eyes were opened for them quickly 
enough, Freud is a heretic thinker and a petit bourgeois ’ because he 
brought to light the unconscious and bestowed on it at least as much 
reality as on the super or social ego. This unconscious mind can 
therefore define a human nature, which is quite separate from the 
historic ego. Man, on the contrary, must be explained in terms of the 
social and rational ego and as an object of calculation. Therefore, it 
has been necessary to enslave, not only each individual life, but also 
the most irrational and the most solitary event of all, the expectancy 
of which accompanies man throughout his entire life. The empire, in 
its convulsive effort to found a definitive kingdom, strives to integrate 

A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic con- 
dition of an object. But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he 
reafiirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses 
to be classified as an object. That is why the accused is never pro- 



duced and killed before the eyes of the world unless he consents to 
say that his death is just and unless he conforms to the empire of 
objects. One must die dishonoured or no longer exist - neither in life 
nor in death. In the latter event, the victim does not die, he disappears. 
If he is punished, his punishment would be a silent protest and might 
cause a fissure in the totality. But the culprit is not punished, he is 
simply replaced and thus helps to construct the machine of empire. 
He is transformed into a cog in the machinery of production, so 
indispensable that in the long rim he will not be used in production 
because he is guilty, but considered guilty because production has 
need of him. The concentration camp system of the Russians has, in 
fact, accomplished the dialectical transition from the government of 
people to the administration of objects, but by confusing people with 

Even the enemy must collaborate in the common endeavour. Be- 
yond the confines of the empire there is no salvation. This is, or will 
be, the empire of friendship. But this friendship is the befriending of 
objects, for the friend cannot be preferred to the empire. The friend- 
ship of people - and there is no other definition of it - is specific 
solidarity, to the point of death, against everything that is not part of 
the kingdom of friendship. The friendship of objects is friendship in 
general, friendship with everytliing which supposes - when it is a 
question of self-preservation - mutual denunciation. He who loves 
his friend loves him in the present and the revolution only wants to 
love a man who has not yet appeared. To love is, in a certain way, to 
kill the perfect man who is going to be born of the revolution. In 
order that one day he may live he should from now on be preferred 
to anyone else. In the kingdom of humanity, men are bound by ties 
of aflection: in the empire of objects, men arc united by mutual 
accusation. The city which planned to be the city of fraternity be- 
comes an ant-heap of solitary men. 

On another plane, only a brute in a state of irrational fury can ima- 
gine that men should be sadistically tortured in order to obtain their 
consent. Such an act only accomplishes the subjugation of one man 
by aiiotlier, in an outrageous coupling of bodies. The representative 



of rational totality is content, on the contrary, to allow the object to 
subdue the person in the soul of man. The highest mind is first of all 
reduced to the level of the lowest by the police technique of joint 
accusation. Then five, ten, twenty nights of insomnia will culminate 
in a false conclusion and will bring yet another dead soul into the 
world. From this point of view, the only psychological revolution 
known to our times since Freud’s has been brought about by the 
N.K.V.D. and the political police in general. Guided by a deterntd- 
nist hypothesis which calculates the weak points and the degree of 
elasticity of the soul, these new techniques have once again thrust 
aside one of man’s limits and have attempted to demonstrate that no 
individual psychology is original and that the common measure of all 
human charaaer is matter. They have literally created the physics of 
the soul. 

From that point on traditional human relations have been trans- 
formed. These progressive transformations characterize the world of 
rational terror in which, in different degrees, Europe lives. Dialogue 
and personal relations have been replaced by propaganda or polemic, 
which are two kinds of monologue. Abstraction, which belongs to the 
world of power and calculation, has replaced the real passions which 
are in the domain of the flesh and of the irrational. The ration coupon 
substituted for bread; love and friendship submitted to a doctrine 
and destiny to a plan; punishment considered the norm, and produc- 
tion substituted for living creation, quite satisfactorily describe this 
disembodied Europe, peopled with positive or negative symbols. 
‘How miserable’, Marx exclaims, ‘is a society which knows no better 
means of defence than the executioner.’ But in Marx’s day the execu- 
tioner had not yet become a philosopher and at least made no 
pretence at universal philanthropy. 

The ultimate contradiction of the greatest revolution that history 
ever knew does not, after all, lie entirely in the fact that it lays claim 
to justice despite an uninterrupted procession of violence and in- 
justice. This is an evil common to all times and a product of servitude 
or mystification. The tragedy of this revolution is the tragedy of 
nihili sm - it confounds itself with the drama of contemporary intelli- 



gence which, while claiming to be universal, is only responsible for a 
series of mutilations to men’s minds. Totality is not unity. The state 
of siege, even when it is extended to the very boundaries of the earth, 
is not reconciliation. The claim to a universal city is only supported, 
in this revolution, by rejecting two-thirds of the world and the magni- 
ficent heritage of the centuries, by denying, to the advantage of history, 
both nature and beauty and by depriving man of the power of pas- 
sion, doubt, happiness, and imaginative invention -■ in a word, of his 
greatness. The principles which men give to themselves end by over- 
whelming their noblest intentions. By dint of argument, incessant 
struggle, polemics, excommunications, persecutions conducted and 
sulfered, the universal city of free and fraternal man is slowly diverted 
and gives way to the only universe in which history and expediency 
can, in fact, be elevated to the position of supreme judges: the 
universe of the trial. 

Every religion revolves around the concepts of innocence and 
guilt. However, Prometheus, the first rebel, denies the right to punish. 
Zeus himself, Zeus above all, is not innocent enough to exercise this 
right. Thus rebellion, in its very first manifestation, refuses to 
recognize punishment as legitimate. But in his last incarnation, at the 
end of his exhausting journey, the rebel once more adopts the religi- 
ous concept of punishment and places it at the centre of his universe. 
The supreme judge is no longer in the heavens; history itself acts as 
an implacable divinity. History, in one sense, is nothing but a pro- 
tracted punishment since the real reward will only be granted at the 
end of time. We are far, it would seem, from Marxism and from 
Hegel, and even farther from the first rebels. Nevertheless, all purely 
historic thought leads to the brink of this abyss. To the extent to 
which Marx predicted the inevitable establishment of the classless 
city and to the extent to which he thus established the goodwill of 
history, every check to the advance toward freedom must be imputed 
to the ill-will of mankind. Marx reintroduced crime and punishment 
into the unchristian world, but only in relation to history. Marxism 
in one of its aspects is a doctrine of culpability on man’s part and 
innocence on history’s. His interpretation of history is that when it is 



deprived of power, it expresses itself in revolutionary violence; at the 
height of its power, it risked becoming legal violence, in other words, 
terror and trial. 

In the universe of religion, moreover, the final judgement is post- 
poned; it is not necessary for crime to be punished without delay or 
for innocence to be rewarded. In the new universe, on the other hand, 
the judgement pronounced by history must be pronounced im- 
mediately, for culpability coincides with the check to progress and 
with punishment. History has judged Bukarin in that it condemned 
him to death. It proclaims the innocence of Stalin: he is the most 
powerful man on earth. Tito is on trial, as was Trotsky, whose guilt 
only became clear to the philosophers of historical crime at the 
moment when the murderer’s axe cracked his skull. Tito has been 
denounced but not yet struck down. When he has been struck down 
his guilt will be certain. Besides, Trotsky’s and Tito’s provisional 
innocence depended and depends to a large extent on geography; 
they were far removed from the arm of secular power. That is why 
those who can be reached by that arm must be judged without delay. 
The definitive judgement of history depends on an infinite number 
of judgements which will have been pronounced between now and 
then and which will finally be confirmed or invahdated. Thus there 
is the promise of mysterious absolutions on the day when the tribunal 
of the world will be established by the world itself. The accused, who 
will proclaim himself a contemptible traitor, will enter the Pantheon 
of mankind; those who maintain their innocence will be condemned 
to the hell of history. But who, then, will be the judge ? Man himself, 
finally fulfilled in his divinity. Meanwhile, those who have under- 
stood the prophecy, and who alone are capable of reading in history 
the meaning with which they previously endowed it, will pronounce 
sentence - definitive for the guilty, provisional sentences for the 
judges. But it sometimes happens that those who judge, Uke Rajk, 
are judged in their turn. Must we believe that he no longer inter- 
preted history correctly ? His defeat and death, in fact, prove it. Then 
who guarantees that those who judge him today, will not be traitors 
tomorrow, hurled down from the height of their judgement seat to 



the concrete caves where history’s damned suffer their agony ? The 
guarantee lies in their infallible clairvoyance. What proof is there of 
that ? Their uninterrupted success. The world of trial is a spherical 
world in which success and innocence authenticate each other and 
where every mirror reflects the same mystification. 

Thus there will be an historic grace whose power alone can inter- 
pret events and which favours, or excommunicates, the subject of the 
empire. To guard against its caprices, the latter only has faith at his 
disposal - faith as defined in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: 

* We should always be prepared so as never to err to believe that what 
I sec as white is black, if the hierarchic Church defines it thus.’ Only 
this active faith held by the representatives of truth can save the 
subject from the mysterious ravages of history. He is not yet free of 
the universe of trial to which he is bound by the historic sentiment of 
fear. But, without this faith, he runs a perpetual risk of becoming, 
without having wished to do so and with the best intentions in the 
world, an objective criminal. 

The universe of trial finally culminates in this concept, at which 
point we have come full circle. At the end of this long insurrection, in 
the name of human innocence, there arises, by an inevitable perver- 
sion of fact, the affirmation of general culpability. Every man is a 
criminal who is unaware of being so. The objective criminal is, 
precisely, he who believed himself innocent. His actions he consi- 
dered subjectively inoffensive, or even advantageous for the future of 
justice. But it is demonstrated to him that objectively his actions have 
been harmful to that future. Are we dealing with scientific objectivity 
here ? . . , No, but with historic objectivity. How is it possible to 
know, for example, if the future of justice is compromised by the 
unconsidered denunciation of present injustice? Real objectivity 
would consist of judging by results which can be scientifically 
observed and by facts and their general tendencies. But the concept of 
objective culpability proves that this curious kind of objectivity is 
only based on results and facts wliich will only become accessible to 
science in the year 2000, at the very earliest. Meanwhile, it is em- 
bodied in an interminable subjectivity which is imposed on others as 



objectivity: and that is the philosophic definition of terror. This type 
of objectivity has no definable meaning, but power will give it a con- 
tent by decreeing that everything of which it does not approve is 
guilty. It will consent to say, or allow to be said, to philosophers who 
live outside the empire, that in this way it is taking a risk in regard to 
history, just as the objective culprit took a risk, though without 
knowing it. When victim and executioner have disappeared the matter 
will be judged. But this consolation is only of any value to the 
executioner, who has really no need of it. Meanwhile, the faithful are 
regularly bidden to attend strange feasts where, according to scrupu- 
lous rites, victims overwhelmed with contrition are offered as 
sacrifice to the end of history. 

The express object of this idea is to prevent indifference in matters 
of faith. It is compulsory evangelization. The law, whose function it 
is to pursue suspects, fabricates them. By fabricating them, it converts 
them. In bourgeois society, for example, every citizen is supposed to 
approve the law. In objective society every citizen will be presumed 
to disapprove of it. Or at least he should always be ready to prove that 
he does not disapprove of it. Culpability no longer has any factual basis, 
it simply consists of absence of faith, which explains the apparent 
contradiction of the objective system. Under a capitalist regime, the 
man who says he is neutral is considered objectively to be favourable 
to the regime. Under the regime of the empire, the man who is neutral 
is considered hostile objectively to the regime. There is nothing 
astonishing about that. If a subject of the empire does not believe 
in the empire he is, of his own choice, nothing, historically speaking; 
therefore, he takes sides against history and is, in other words, a 
blasphemer. Even lip service paid to faith will not suffice; it must be 
lived and acted in order to be served properly and the citizen must 
be always on the alert to consent in time to the changes in dogma. At 
the slightest error potential culpability becomes in its turn objective 
culpability. Consummating its history in this manner, the revolution 
is not content with killing all rebellion. It insists on holding every 
man, even the most servile, responsible for the faa that rebellion ever 
existed and still exists under the sun. In the universe of the trial. 



conquered and completed at last, a race of culprits will endlessly 
shuffle towards an impossible innocence, under the grim regard of 
the Grand Inquisitors. In the twentieth century, power wears the 
mask of tragedy. 

Rebellion and Revolution 

The revolution based on principles kills God in the person of His 
representative on earth. The revolution of the twentieth century kills 
what remains of God in the principles themselves, and consecrates 
historic nihilism. Whatever paths nihilism may proceed to take, from 
the moment that it decides to be the creative force of its period and 
ignores every moral precept, it begins to build the temple of Caesar. 
To choose history, and history alone, is to choose nihilism, contrary 
to the teachings of rebellion itself. Those who rush blindly to history 
in the name of the irrational, proclaiming that it is meaningless, en- 
counter servitude and terror and finally emerge into the universe of 
concentration camps. Those who launch themselves into it, preaching 
its absolute rationality, encounter servitude and terror and emerge 
into the universe of the concentration camps. Fascism wants to 
establish the advent of the Nietzschean superman. It immediately 
discovers that God, if He exists, may well be this or that, but He is 
primarily the master of death. If man wants to become God, he 
arrogates to himself the power of life or death over others. The 
rational revolution, on its part, wants to realize the total man des- 
cribed by Marx. The logic of history, from the moment that it is 
totally accepted, gradually leads it, against its most passionate con- 
victions, to mutilate man more and more, and to transform itself into 
objective crime. It is not legitimate to identify the ends of Fascism 
with the ends of Russian communism. The first represents the 
exaltation of the executioner by the executioner; the second, more 
dramatic in concept, the exaltation of the executioner by the victim. 
The former never dreamed of liberating all men, but only of libera- 
ting a few by subjugating the rest. The latter, in its most profound 
principle, aims at liberating all men by provisionally enslaving them 
all. It must be granted the grandeur of its intentions. But, on the 



Other hand, it is legitimate to identify the means employed by both 
with political cynicism which they have drawn from the same source, 
moral nihilism. Everything has taken place as though the descendants 
of Sdmer and of Nechayev were makmg use of the descendants of 
Kaliayev and Proudhon. The nihilists today are seated on thrones. 
Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in the 
name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and 
not of rebellion. That is why our period is the period of private and 
public techniques of annihilation. 

The revolution, obedient to the dictates of nihilism, has in fact 
turned against its rebel origins. Man, who hated death and the god of 
death, who despaired of personal survival, wanted to free himself in 
the immortahty of the species. But as long as the group does not 
dominate the world, as long as the species does not reign, it is still 
necessary to die. Time is pressing, therefore persuasion demands 
leisure and friendship a structure which will never be completed; 
thus, terror remains the shortest route to immortahty. But these 
extremes simultaneously proclaim a longing for the primitive values 
of rebeUion. The contemporary revolution which claims to deny 
every value is already, in itself, a standard for judging values. Man 
wants to reign supreme through the revolution. But why reign 
supreme if nothing has any meaning ? Why wish for immortahty if 
the aspect of life is so hideous ? There is no method of thought which 
is absolutely nihihst except, perhaps, the method that leads to suicide, 
any more than there is absolute materiahsm. The destruction of man 
once more affirms man. Terror and concentration camps are the 
drastic means used by man to escape solitude. If men kill one another, 
it is because they reject mortahty and desire immortality for all men. 
Therefore, in one sense, they commit suicide. But they prove, at the 
same time, that they cannot dispense with mankind; they satisfy a 
terrible hunger for fraternity. ‘The human being needs happiness 
and, when he is unhappy, he needs another human being.’ Those 
who reject the agony of living and dying wish to dominate. ‘ Sohtude 
is power,’ says Sade. Power, today, because for thousands of sohtary 
people it signifies the suffering of others, bears witness to the need 



for others* Terror is the homage that the malignant recluse finally 
pays to the brotherhood of man. 

But nihilism, if it does not exist, tries to do so; and that is enough 
to make the world a desert. This particular form of madness is what 
has given our times their forbidding aspect. The land of humanism 
has become the Europe we know, the land of inhumanity. But the 
times are ours and how can we disown them ? If our history is our 
hell, then we cannot turn away. This horror cannot be escaped, but is 
assumed in order to be ignored, by the very people who accepted it 
with lucidity and not by those who, having provoked it, think that 
they have a right to pronounce judgement. Such a plant could, in 
fact, only thrive in the fertile soil of accumulated iniquities. In the 
last throes of a death struggle in which men are indiscriminately 
mingled through the folly of the times, the enemy remains the 
fraternal enemy. Even when he has been denounced for his errors, he 
can neither be despised nor hated; misfortune is, today, the common 
fatherland, and the only earthly kingdom which has fulfilled the 

The longing for rest and peace must, itself, be thrust aside; it 
coincides with the acceptance of iniquity. Those who weep for the 
happy periods which they encounter in history acknowledge what 
they want; not the alleviation but the silencing of misery. But on the 
contrary, let us sing the praises of our times when misery cries aloud 
and disturbs the sleep of the surfeited rich! Maistre has already 
spoken of the ‘terrible sermon which the revolution preached to 
kings’. It preaches the same sermon today and in a still more urgent 
fashion, to the dishonoured ehte of the times. This sermon must be 
heard. In every word and in every act, even though it be criminal, 
lies the promise of a value which we must seek out and bring to hght. 
The future cannot be foreseen and it is possible that the renaissance 
is impossible. Even though the historic dialectic is false and criminal, 
the world, after all, can very well realize itself in crime and in pursuit 
of a false concept. This kind of resignation is, quite simply, rejected 
here : we must stake everything on the renaissance. 

Nothing remains for us, moreover, but to be reborn or to die. If 



we are at the moment in history when rebellion has reached the 
point of its most extreme contradiction by denying itself, then it must 
either perish with the world it has created or i&nd a new object of faith 
and a new impetus. Before going any farther, this contradiction must 
at least be stated in plain language. It is not a clear definition to say, 
like the existentialists, for example (who are also subjected for the 
moment to the cult of history and its contradictions),^ that there is 
progress in the transition from rebellion to revolution and that the 
rebel is nothing if he is not revolutionary. The contradiction is, in 
reality, considerably more restricted. The revolutionary is simul- 
taneously a rebel or he is not a revolutionary, but a policeman, or a 
bureaucrat, who turns against rebellion. But if he is a rebel he ends 
by taking sides against the revolution. So much so that there is 
absolutely no progress from one attitude to the other, but coexistence 
and endlessly increasing contradiction. Every revolutionary ends by 
becoming either an oppressor or a heretic. In the purely historical 
universe that they have chosen, rebellion and revolution end in the 
same dilemma: either police rule or insanity. 

On this level, therefore, history alone offers no hope. It is not a 
source of values, but is still a source of nihilism. Can one, at least, 
create values m defiance of history, if only on the level of a philosophy 
based on eternity? That comes to the same as ratifying historic 
injustice and the sufferings of man. To slander the world leads to the 
nihilism defined by Nietzsche. Thought which is derived from 
history alone, like thought which rejects history completely, deprives 
man of the means and the reason for living. The former drives him to 
the extreme decadence of ‘why live?’ the latter to ‘how to hve?* 
History, necessary but not sufficient, is therefore only an occasional 
cause. It is not absence of values, nor values themselves, nor even the 
source of values. It is one occasion, among others, for man to prove 
the still confused existence of a value which allows him to judge 
history. Rebellion itself makes us the promise of such a value. 

* Atheist existentialism at least wishes to create a morality. It is still to be 
defined. But the real difficulty lies in creating it without reintroducing into 
historic existence a value foreign to history. 



Absolute revolution, in fact, supposes the absolute malleability of 
human nature and its possible reduction to the condition of a 
historic force. But rebellion, in man, is the refusal to be treated as an 
object and to be reduced to simple historical terms. It is the aflSrma- 
tion of a nature common to all men, which eludes the world of power. 
History, undoubtedly, is one of the limits of man’s experience; in 
this sense the revolutionaries are right. But man, by rebelling, im- 
poses in his turn a limit to history and at tliis limit the promise of a 
value is bom. It is the birth of this value which the Caesarian revolu- 
tion implacably combats today because it presages its final defeat and 
the obligation to renounce its principles. The fate of the world is not 
being played out at present, as it seemed it would be, in the struggle 
between bourgeois production and revolutionary production; their 
end-results will be the same. It is being played out between the forces 
of rebellion and those of the Caesarian revolution. The triumphant 
revolution must prove by means of its police, its trials, and its 
excommunications, that there is no such thing as human nature. 
Humiliated rebellion, by its contradictions, its sufferings, its con- 
tinuous defeats, and its inexhaustible pride, must give its content of 
hope and suffering to this nature. 

‘I rebel, therefore we exist’, said the slave. Metaphysical rebellion 
then added, ‘we are alone’, by which we still live today. But, if we 
are alone beneath the empty heavens, if we must die forever, how can 
we really exist? Metaphysical rebellion, then, tried to construct 
existence with appearances. After which purely historic thought 
came to say that to be was to act. We did not exist, but we should 
exist by every possible means. Our revolution is an attempt to conquer 
a new existence, by action which recognizes no moral strictures. That 
is why it is condenmed to live only for history and in a reign of terror. 
Man is nothing, according to the revolution, if he does not obtain from 
history, willingly or unwillingly, unanimous approval. At this exact 
point, the limit is exceeded, rebellion is first betrayed and then 
logically assassinated for it has never affirmed - in its purest form - 
any thing but the existence of a limit and the divided existence that 
we represent: it is not, originally, the total negation of all existence. 



Quite the contrary, it says yes and no simultaneously. It is the 
rejection of one part of existence in the name of another part which 
it exalts. The more deeply felt the exaltation, the more implacable is 
the rejection. Then, when rebellion, in rage or intoxication, adopts 
the attitude of ‘all or nothing’ and the negation of all existence and all 
human nature, it is at this point that it denies itself completely. Total 
negation only justifies the concept of a totality that must be con- 
quered. But the affirmation of a limit, a dignity, and a beauty com- 
mon to all men only entails the necessity of extending this value to 
embrace everything and everyone and of advancing towards unity 
without denying the origins of rebellion. In this sense rebellion, in its 
primary aspect of authenticity, does not justify any purely historic 
concept. Rebellion’s claim is unity, historic revolution’s claim is 
totality. The former starts from a negative supported by an affirma- 
tive, the latter from absolute negation and is condemned to fabricate 
an affirmative which is dismissed until the end of time. One is creative, 
the other nihilist. The first is dedicated to creation so as to exist more 
and more completely, the second is forced to produce results in order 
to negate more and more completely. The historic revolution is 
always obliged to act in the hope, which is invariably disappointed, 
of one day really existing. Even unanimous approval will not suffice to 
create its existence. ‘Obey’, said Frederick the Great to his subjects, 
but when he died his words were, ‘I am tired of ruling slaves.’ To 
escape this absurd destiny, the revolution is and will be condemned to 
renounce, not only its own principles, but nihilism as well as purely 
historic values in order to rediscover the creative source of rebellion. 
Revolution, in order to be creative, cannot do without either a moral 
or metaphysical rule to balance the insanity of history. Undoubtedly, 
it has nothing but scorn for the formal and meretricious morality to 
be found in bourgeois society. But its folly has been to extend its 
scorn to every moral attitude. At the very sources of its inspiration 
and in its most profound transports is to be found a rule which is not 
formal but which, nevertheless, can serve as a guide. Rebellion, in 
fact, will say - and will say more and more explicitly - that revolution 
must try to act, not in order to come into existence at some future 



date, but in terms of the obscure existence which is already made 
manifest in the act of insurrection. This rule is neither formal nor 
subject to history, it is what can be best described by examiomg it in 
its pure state - in artistic creation. Before doing so, let us only note 
that to the T rebel, therefore we exist’ and the ‘we are alone’ of the 
metaphysical rebellion, rebellion at grips with history adds that 
instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are 
not, we have to live and let live in order to create what we are. 



Art is an activity which exalts and denies simultaneously, ‘No artist 
tolerates reality’, says Nietzsche. That is true, but no artist can 
ignore reality. Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection 
of the world. But it rejects the world on account of what it lacks and 
in the name of what it sometimes is. Rebellion can be observed here 
in its pure state and in its original complexities. Thus, art should give 
us a final perspective on the content of rebellion. 

However, the hostility to art shown by all revolutionary reformers 
must be pointed out. Plato is moderately reasonable. He only calls in 
question the deceptive function of language and exiles the poets from 
his republic. Apart from that, he considers beauty more important 
than the world. But the revolutionary movement of modem times 
coincides with an artistic process which is not yet completed. The 
Reformation chooses morality and exiles beauty. Rousseau denounces 
art as a corruption of Nature by society. Saint- Just inveighs against 
the theatre and in the elaborate programme he composes for the 
‘Feast of Reason’ he states that he would like Reason to be personified 
by someone ‘virtuous rather than beautiful’. The French Revolution 
gave birth to no artists but only to a great journalist, Desmoulins, 
and to an under-the-counter writer, Sade. The only poet of the times 
was the guillotine. The only great prose writer took refuge in London 
and pleaded the cause of Christianity and legitimacy. A little later the 
followers of Saint-Simon demanded a ‘socially useful’ form of art. 
‘Art for progress’ was a commonplace of the whole period and one 
which Hugo revived, without succeeding in making it sound con- 
vincing, Vall^ alone brings to his malediction of art a tone of impre- 
cation which gives it authenticity. 

This tone is also employed by the Russian nihilists. Pisarev 



proclaims the deposition of aesthetic values, in favour of pragmatic 
values. ‘I would rather be a Russian shoemaker than a Russian 
Raphael.’ A pair of boots, in his eyes, is more useful than Shake- 
speare. The nihilist Nekrassov, a great and moving poet, nevertheless 
dfirms that he prefers a piece of cheese to all of Pushkin. Finally, we 
are familiar with the excommunication of art pronounced by Tolstoy. 
Revolutionary Russia finally even turned its back on the marble 
statues of Venus and Apollo, still gilded by the Italian sun, that Peter 
the Great had had brought to his summer garden in St Petersburg. 
Suffering, sometimes, turned away from too painful expressions of 

German ideology is no less severe in its accusations. According to 
the revolutionary interpreters of the Phenomenology there will be no 
art in reconciled society. Beauty will be lived and no longer only 
imagined. Reality, become entirely rational, will satisfy, completely 
on its own, every form of desire. The criticism of formal conscience 
and of escapist values naturally extends itself to embrace art. Art 
does not belong to all times; it is determined, on the contrary, by its 
period and expresses, says Marx, the privileged values of the ruling 
classes. Thus, there is only one revolutionary form of art which is, 
precisely, art dedicated to the service of the revolution. Moreover, by 
creating beauty outside the course of history, art impedes the only 
rational activity: the transformation of history itself into absolute 
beauty. The Russian shoemaker, once he is aware of his revolutionary 
role, is the real creator of definitive beauty. As for Raphael, he only 
created a transitory beauty which will be quite incomprehensible to 
the new man. 

Marx asks himself, it is true, how the beauty created by the Greeks 
can still be beautiful for us. His answer is that this beauty is the 
expression of the naive childhood of this world and that we have, in 
the midst of our adult struggles, a nostalgia for this childhood. But 
how can the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, how can Rem- 
brandt, how can Chinese art still be beautiful in our eyes ? What does 
it matter! The trial of art has been opened definitively and is 
continuing today with the embarrassed complicity of artists and 



intelleauals dedicated to calumniating both their art and their 
intelligence. We notice, in fact, that in the contest between Shake- 
speare and the shoemaker, it is not the shoemaker who maUgns 
Shakespeare or beauty but, on the contrary, the man who continues 
to read Shakespeare and who does not choose to make shoes, which 
he could never make if it comes to that. The artists of our time resem- 
ble the repentant noblemen of nineteenth-century Russia; their bad 
conscience is their excuse. But the last emotion that an artist can 
experience, confronted with his art, is repentance. It is going far 
beyond simple and necessary humility to pretend to dismiss beauty, 
too, until the end of time, and meanwhile, to deprive all the world, 
including the shoemaker, of this additional bread of which one has 
taken advantage oneself. 

This form of ascetic insanity, nevertheless, has its reasons which 
at least are of interest to us. They express, on the aesthetic level, the 
struggle, already described, between revolution and rebellion. In 
every rebellion is to be found the metaphysical demand for unity, the 
impossibility of capturing it and the construction of a substitute 
universe. Rebellion, from this point of view, is a fabricator of uni- 
verses. This also defines art. The demands of rebellion are really, in 
part, aesthetic demands. All rebel thought, as we have seen, is either 
expressed in rhetoric or in a closed universe. The convents and iso- 
lated castles of Sade, the island or the lonely rock of the romantics, 
the solitary heights of Nietzsche, prison, the nation behind barbed 
wire, the concentration camps, the empire of free slaves all illustrate, 
after their own fashion, the same need for coherence and unity. In 
these sealed worlds, man can reign and have knowledge at last. 

This is also the tendency of all the arts. The artist reconstructs the 
world to his plan. The symphonies of Nature know no organ point. 
The world is never quiet, even its silence eternally resounds with the 
same notes, in vibrations which escape our ears. As for those that we 
perceive, they carry sounds to us, occasionally a chord, never a 
melody. However, music exists in which symphonies are finished, 
where melody gives its form to sounds which by themselves have 
none, and where, finally, a particular arrangement of notes extracts. 



j&om natiiral disorder, a unity which is satisfying to the mind and the 

‘I believe more and more’, writes Van Gogh, ‘that God must not 
be judged on this earth. The world is a study of God which has 
turned out badly.’ Every artist tried to reconstruct this study and to 
give it the style it lacks. The greatest and most ambitious of all the 
arts, sculpture, is bent on capturing, in three dimensions, the fugitive 
face of man, and on restoring the unity of great style to the general 
disorder of gestures. Sculpture does not reject resemblance of which, 
indeed, it has need. But resemblance is not its first aim. What it is 
looking for, in its periods of greatness, is the gesture, the expression, 
or the empty stare which will sum up all the gestures and all the stares 
in the world. Its purpose is not to imitate, but to stylize and to 
imprison, in one significant expression, the fleeting ecstasy of the 
body or the infinite variety of human attitudes. Then, and only then, 
does it erect, on the pediments of riotous cities, the model, the type, 
the motionless perfection which will cool, for one moment, the 
fevered brow of man. The frustrated lover of love can finally gaze at 
the Greek caryatides and grasp what it is that triumphs, in the body 
and face of a woman, over every degradation. 

The principle of painting is also to make a choice. ‘Even genius’, 
writes Delacroix, ruminating on his art, ‘is only the gift of generaliz- 
ing and choosing.’ The painter isolates his subject, which is the first 
way of unifying it. Landscapes flee, vanish from the memory, or 
destroy one another. That is why the landscape painter or the painter 
of still life isolates in space and time things which normally change 
with the light, get lost in an infinite perspective or disappear under 
the impact of other values. The first thing that a landscape painter 
does is to square off his canvas. He eliminates as much as he includes. 
Similarly, subject painting isolates, both in time and space, an action 
which normally would become lost in another action. Thus the 
painter arrives at a point of stabilization. The really great creative 
artists are those who, like Piero della Francesca, give the impression 
that the stabilization has only just taken place, that the projection 
machine has suddenly stopped dead. All their subjects give the im- 



pression that, by some miracle of art, they continue to live, while 
ceasing to be mortal. Long after his death, Rembrandt’s philosopher 
still meditates, between light and shade, on the same problem. 

‘ How vain a thing is painting which beguiles us by the resemblance 
of objects which do not please us at all.’ Delacroix, who quotes 
Pascal’s celebrated remark, is correct in writing ‘strange’ instead of 
‘vain’. These objects do not please us at all because we do not see 
them ; they are obscured and negated by a perpetual process of change. 
Who looked at the hands of the executioner during the Flagellation 
and the olive trees on the way to the Cross ? But here we see them 
represented, transfigured by the incessant movement of the Passion 
and the agony of Christ, imprisoned in images of violence and beauty, 
cries out again, each day, in the cold rooms of museums. A painter’s 
style lies in this blending of Nature and history, in this stability im- 
posed on incessant change. Art realizes, without apparent effort, the 
reconciliation of the unique with the universal of which Hegel 
dreamed. Perhaps that is why periods, such as ours, which are bent 
on unity to the point of madness, turn to primitive arts, in which 
stylization is the most intense and unity the most provocative. The 
most abstract stylization is always found at the beginning and end of 
artistic movements; it demonstrates the intensity of negation and 
transposition which has given modern painting its disorderly impetus 
towards interpreting unity and existence. Van Gogh’s admirable 
complaint is the arrogant and desperate cry of all artists. ‘ I can very 
well, in life, and in painting, too, do without God. But I cannot, 
suffering as I do, do without something that is greater than I am, 
which is my life - the power to create.’ 

But the artist’s rebellion against reality, which is automatically 
suspect to the totalitarian revolution, contains the same affirmation as 
the spontaneous rebellion of the oppressed. The revolutionary spirit, 
bom of total negation, instinctively feels that besides refusal, there 
was also in art a tendency to acquiescence ; that there was a risk of 
contemplation counterbalancing action and beauty counteracting 
injustice, and that in certain cases, beauty itself was a form of in- 
justice from which there was no appeal. Equally well, no form of art 



can survive on total denial alone. Just as all thought, and primarily 
that of non-signification, signifies something, so there is no art that 
has no signification. Man can allow himself to denounce the total 
injustice of the world and then demand a total justice which he alone 
will create. But he cannot affirm the total hideousness of the world. 
To create beauty, he must simultaneously reject reality and exalt 
certain of its aspects. Art disputes reality, but does not hide from it. 
Nietzsche could deny any form of transcendence, whether moral or 
divine, in saying that transcendence drove one to slander this world 
and this life. But perhaps there is a living transcendence, of which 
beauty carries the promise, which can make this mortal and limited 
world preferable to and more appealing than any other. Art thus 
leads us back to the origins of rebellion, to the extent that it tries to 
give its form to an elusive value which the future perpetually pro- 
mises, but which the artist presents and wishes to snatch from the 
grasp of history. We shall understand this better in considering the 
art form whose precise aim is to dive into the stream of the ceaseless 
change of things in order to give it the style that it lacks ; in other 
words, the novel. 


It is possible to separate the literature of consent which coincides, by 
and large, with ancient history and the classical period from the 
literature of rebellion which begins in modern times. We note the 
scarcity of fiction in the former. When it exists, with very few 
exceptions, it is not concerned with history but with fantasy {Theage- 
nus and Chariclea or Astraea), These are fairy-tales not novels. In the 
latter period, on the contrary, the novel form is really developed - a 
form which has not ceased to thrive and extend its field of activity up 
to the present day, in conjunction with the critical and revolutionary 
movement. The novel is bom simultaneously with the spirit of 
rebellion and expresses, on the aesthetic plane, the same ambition. 



‘Make-believe history, written in prose/ says Littr6 about the 
novel. Is it only that ? In any case, a catholic critic has written: ‘Art, 
whatever its aims, is always in sinful competition with God.’ Actually, 
it is more correct to talk about competition with God, in conneKion 
with the novel, than of competition with the State. Thibaudet ex- 
presses a similar idea when he says of Balzac: ^The Human Comedy is 
the Imitation of God the Father.* The aim of great literature seems to 
be to create a closed universe or a perfect type. The West, in its great 
creative works, does not limit itself to retracing the steps of its daily 
life. It ceaselessly presents magnificently conceived images which 
inflame its imagination and sets off, hot foot, in pursuit of them. 

After all, writing or even reading a novel are unusual activities. To 
construct a story by a new arrangement of actual facts has nothing 
inevitable or even necessary about it. Even if the ordinary explanation 
of the mutual pleasure of reader and writer were true, it would still 
be necessary to ask why it was incumbent on a large part of humanity 
to take pleasure and an interest in make-believe stories. Revolutionary 
criticism condemns the novel in its pure form as being simply a 
means of escape for an idle imagination. In everyday speech we find 
the term ‘romance’ used to describe an exaggerated description or 
lying account of some event. Not so very long ago it was a common- 
place that young girls, despite all appearance to the contrary, were 
‘romantic’, by which was meant that these idealized creatures took 
no account of everyday realities. In general, it has always been con- 
sidered that the romantic was quite separate from life and that it 
enhanced it while, at the same time, betraying it. The simplest and 
most common way of envisaging the expression of romanticism is to 
see it as an escapist exercise. Common sense joins hands with 
revolutionary criticism. 

But what are we escaping from by means of a novel ? From a reality 
we consider too overwhelming ? Happy people read novels, too, and 
it is an established fact that extreme suffering takes away the taste for 
literature. From another angle, the romantic universe of the novel 
certainly has less substance than the other universe where people of 
flesh and blood lay siege to us without respite. However, by what 



magic does Adolphe, for instance, seem a so much more familiar 
figure to us than Benjamin Constant, and Count Mosca than our 
professional moralists ? Balzac once terminated a long conversation 
about politics and the fate of the world by saying: ‘And now let us 
get back to serious matters ’, meaning that he wanted to talk about his 
novels. The incontestable importance of the world of the novel, our 
insistence, in fact, on taking seriously the innumerable myths with 
which we have been provided, for the last two centuries, by the genius 
of writers, implies a sort of rejection of reality. But this rejection is 
not a mere escapist flight, and should be interpreted as the retreat of 
the soul which, according to Hegel, creates for itself in its deception a 
fictitious world in which ethics reign alone. However, the edifying 
novel is always far from being great literature; and the best of all 
romantic novels, Paul et Virginky is a really heart-breaking book, and 
makes no concessions to consolation. 

The contradiction is this : man rejects the world as it is, without 
accepting the necessity of escaping it. In fact, men cling to the world 
and by far the greater majority do not want to abandon it. Far from 
always wanting to forget it, they suffer, on the contrary, from not 
being able to possess it completely enough, strangers to the world 
they live in and exiled from their own country. Except for vivid 
moments of fulfilment, all reality for them is incomplete. Their ac- 
tions escape them in the form of other actions, return, in imexpected 
guises, to judge them and disappear like the water Tantalus longed to 
drink, into some still undiscovered orifice. To know the whereabouts 
of the orifice, to control the course of the river, to understand life, at 
last, as destiny — these are their true aspirations. But this vision which 
in the realm of consciousness at least, will reconcile them with them- 
selves, can only appear, if it ever does appear, at the fugitive 
moment which is death, and in which everything is consummated. In 
order to exist just once in the world, it is necessary never again to 

At this point is born the fatal envy, which so many men feel, of the 
lives of others. Seen from a distance, these existences seem to possess 
a coherence and a unity which they cannot have, in reality, but which 



seem evident to the spectator. He only sees the salient points of these 
lives without taking into account the details of corrosion. Thus we 
make these lives into works of art. In an elementary fashion we turn 
them into novels. In this sense, everyone tries to make his life a work 
of art. We want love to last and we know that it does not last; 
even if, by some miracle, it were to last a whole lifetime, it would still 
be incomplete. Perhaps, in this insatiable need for perpetuation, we 
should better understand human suffering, if we knew that it was 
eternal. It appears that great minds are, sometimes, less horrified by 
suffering than by the fact that it does not endure. In default of 
inexhaustible happiness, eternal suffering would at least give us a 
destiny. But we do not even have that consolation, and our worst 
agonies come to an end one day. One morning, after many dark 
nights of despair, an irrepressible longing to live will announce to 
us the faa that all is finished and that suffering has no more meaning 
than happiness. 

The desire for possession is only another form of the desire to 
endure; it is this that comprises the impotent delirium of love. No 
human being, even the most passionately loved and passionately 
loving, is ever in our possession. On the pitiless earth where lovers 
are often separated in death and are always bom divided, the total 
possession of another human being and absolute communion through- 
out an entire lifetime are impossible dreams. The desire for posses- 
sion is insatiable, to such a point that it can survive even love itself. 
To love, therefore, is to sterilize the person one loves. The shame- 
faced suffering of the abandoned lover is not so much due to being no 
longer loved as to knowing that the other partner can and must love 
again. In the final analysis, every man devoured by the overpowering 
desire to endure and possess wishes that the people whom he has 
loved were either sterile or dead. This is real rebellion. Those who 
have not insisted, at least once, on the absolute virginity of human 
beings and of the world, who have not trembled with longing and 
impotence at the fact that it is impossible, and have then not been 
destroyed by trying to love half-heartedly, perpetually forced back 
upon their longing for the absolute, cannot understand the realities of 



rebellion and its ravening desire for destruction. But the lives of 
others always escape us and we escape them too; they are with- 
out firm contours. Life, from this point of view, is without style. 
It is only an impulse which endlessly pursues its form with- 
out ever finding it. Man, tortured by this, tries in vain to find the 
form which will impose certain limits between which he can be 
king. If only one single living thing had definite form, he would be 

There is not one human being who, above a certain elementary 
level of consciousness, does not exhaust himself in trying to find 
formulae or attitudes which will give his existence the unity it lacks. 
Appearance and action, the dandy and the revolutionary, aU demand 
unity, in order to exist and in order to exist on this earth. As in those 
pathetic and miserable relationships which sometimes survive for a 
very long time because one of the partners is waiting to find the right 
word, action, gesture, or situation which will bring his adventure to 
an end on exactly the right note, so everyone proposes and creates 
for himself the final word. It is not sufficient to live, there must be a 
destiny which does not have to wait on death. It is therefore justifi- 
able to say that man has an idea of a better world than this. But better 
does not mean different, it means unified. This passion which lifts 
the mind above the commonplaces of a dispersed world, from which 
it nevertheless detaches itself, is tlie passion for unity. It does not 
result in mediocre efforts to escape, however, but in the most obsti- 
nate demands. Religion or crime, every human endeavour in fact, 
finally obeys this unreasonable desire and claims to give life a form it 
does not have. The same impulse which can lead to the adoration of 
the heavens or the destruction of man, also leads to creative literature 
which derives its serious content at this source. 

What, in fact, is a novel but a universe in which action is endowed 
with form, where final words are pronounced, where people possess 
one another completely and where life assumes the aspect of destiny ? 
The world of the novel is only a rectification of the world we live in, in 
pursuance of man’s deepest wishes. For the world is undoubtedly the 
same one we know. The suffering, the illusion, the love are the same. 



The heroes speak our language, have our weaknesses and our strength. 
Their universe is neither more beautiful nor more enlightening than 
ours. But they, at least, pursue their destinies to the bitter end and 
there are no more fascinating heroes than those who indulge their 
passions to the fullest, Kirilov and Stavrogin, Madame Graslin, 
Julien Sorel, or the Prince de Cleves. It is here that we can no longer 
keep pace with them, for they complete things which we can never 

Mme de La Fayette derived the Princesse de Cl^es from the most 
harrowing experiences. Undoubtedly she is Madame de Cloves and 
yet she is not. Where lies the difference ? The difference is that Mme 
de La Fayette did not go into a convent and that no one around her 
died of despair. No doubt she knew moments, at least, of agony in her 
unrivalled passion. But there was no denouement, she survived her 
love and prolonged it by ceasing to live it, and finally no one, not even 
herself, would have known its pattern if she had not given it the ideal 
delineation of fauldess prose. 

Here we have an imaginary world, therefore, which is created 
from the rectification of the actual world - a world where suffering 
can, if it wishes, continue until death, where passions are never dis- 
tracted, where people are prey to obsessions and are always present 
to each other. Man is finally able to give himself the alleviating form 
and limits which he pursues in vain in his own life. The novel makes 
destiny to measure. In this way man competes with creation and, 
provisionally, conquers death. A detailed analysis of the most famous 
novels would show, in different perspectives each time, that the 
essence of the novel lies in this perpetual alteration, always directed 
towards the same ends, that the artist makes in his own experience. 
Far from being moral or even purely formal, this alteration aims, 
primarily, at unity and thereby indicates a metaphysical need. The 
novel, on this level, is primarily an exercise of the intelligence in the 
service of nostalgic or rebellious sensibilities. It would be possible to 
study this quest for unity in the French analytical novel and in 
Melville, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, or Tolstoy. But a brief comparison 
between two attempts which stand at different poles of the world of 



the novel - the works of Proust and American fiction of the last few 
years - will sufiice for our purpose. 

The American novel* claims to find its unity in reducing man 
either to elementals or to his external reactions and to his behaviour. 
It does not choose feelings or passions of which to give a detailed 
description, such as we find in classic French literature. It rejects 
analysis and the search for a fundamental psychological motive which 
could explain and recapitulate the behaviour of a character. This is 
why the unity of this novel form is only the unity of the flash of 
recognition. Its technique consists of describing men by their outside 
appearances, in their most casual actions, of reproducing, without 
comment, everything they say down to their repetitions and finally by 
acting as if men were entirely defined by their daily automatisms. On 
this mechanical level men, in fact, seem exactly alike, which explains 
this peculiar universe in which all the characters appear interchange- 
able, even down to their physical peculiarities. This technique is only 
called realistic, thanks to a misapprehension. In addition to the fact 
that realism in art is, as we shall see, an incomprehensible idea, it is 
perfectly obvious that this fictitious world is not attempting a repro- 
duction, pure and simple, of reality, but the most arbitrary form of 
stylization. It is bom of a mutilation and of a voluntary mutilation 
performed on reality. The unity thus obtained is a degraded unity, a 
levelling off of human beings and of the world. It would seem that, 
for these writers, it is the inner life which deprives human actions of 
unity and which tears people away from one another. This is a parti- 
ally legitimate suspicion. But rebellion, which is one of the sources of 
the art of fiction, can only find satisfaction in constructing unity on 
the basis of affirming this interior reahty and not of denying it. To 
deny it totally is to refer oneself to the opinion of an imaginary man. 
Novels of violence are also love stories of which they have the formal 
conceits - in their own way, they edify. The life of the body, reduced 
to its essentials, paradoxically produces an abstract and gratuitous 
universe, continuously denied, in its turn, by reality. This type of 

* We are referring, of course, to the ‘ tough * novel of the thirties and not to 
the admirable American efflorescence of the nineteenth century. 



novel, purged of interior life, in which men seem to be observed 
behind a pane of glass, logically ends by giving itself, as its unique 
subject, the supposedly average man studied from the pathological 
point of view. In this way it is possible to explain the extraordinary 
number of ‘innocents* who appear in this universe. The innocent is 
the ideal subject for such an enterprise since he can only be defined — 
and completely defined - by his behaviour. He is the symbol of the 
despairing world in which wretched automatons live in the most 
mechanically coherent way and which American novelists have 
presented as a heart rending but sterile protest. 

As for Proust, his contribution has been to create, from an obstinate 
contemplation of reality, a closed world which belonged only to him 
and which indicated his victory over the transitoriness of things and 
over death. But he uses absolutely the opposite means. He upholds 
above everything, by a deliberate choice, a careful selection of unique 
experience which the writer chooses from the most secret recesses of 
his past. Immense empty spaces are thus discarded from life because 
they have left no trace in the memory. If the American novel is the 
novel of men without memory, the world of Proust is nothing but 
memory. It is only concerned with the most difficult and most 
exacting of memories, the memory which rejects the dispersion of the 
actual world and which derives, from the trace of a lingering perfume, 
the secret of a new and ancient universe. Proust chooses the interior 
life and, of the interior life, that which is more interior than life itself 
in preference to what is forgotten in the world of reality, in other 
words the purely mechanical and blind aspects of the world. But by 
his rejection of reality he does not deny reality. He does not commit 
the error, which would counter-balance the error of American fiction, 
of suppressing the mechanical. He unites, on the contrary, into a 
superior form of unity, the memory of the past and the immediate 
sensation, the twisted foot and the happy days of times past. 

It is difficult to return to the places of one’s early happiness. The 
yoimg girls in the flower of their youth still laugh and chatter on the 
seashore, but he who watches them gradually loses his right to love 
them, just as those he has loved lose the power to be loved. This 



melancholy is the melancholy of Proust. It was powerful enough in 
him to cause a violent rejection of all existence. But his passion for 
faces and for the light, at the same time, attached him to life. He never 
admitted that the happy days of his youth were lost forever. He under- 
took the task of recreating them and of demonstrating, in the face of 
death, that the past could be regained at the end of time in the form of 
an imperishable present, both truer and richer than it was at the 
beginning. The psychological analysis of Remembrance of Things Past 
is nothing but a potent means to an end. The real greatness of Proust 
lies in having written Time Regained which bears the resemblance of 
the world of dispersion and which gives it a meaning on the very 
level of discord. His difficult victory, on the eve of his death, is to 
have been able to extract from the incessant flight of forms, by means 
of memory and intelligence alone, the tentative trembling symbols of 
human unity. The most definite challenge that a work of this kind 
can give to creation is to present itself as an entirety, as a closed and 
unified world. This defines an unrepentant work of art. 

It has been said that the world of Proust was a world without a 
god. If that is true, it is not because God is never spoken of, but 
because the ambition of this world is to be absolute perfection and to 
give to eternity the aspect of man. Time Regained^ at least in its 
aspirations, is eternity without God. Proust’s work, in this regard, 
appears to be one of the most ambitious and most significant of man’s 
enterprises against his mortal condition. He has demonstrated that 
the art of the novel can reconstruct creation itself, in the form that 
it is imposed on us and in the form in which we reject it. In one of its 
aspects at least, this art consists of choosing the creature in preference 
to his creator. But still more profoundly, it is allied to the beauty of 
the world or of its inhabitants against the powers of death and obli- 
vion. It is in this way that his rebellion is creative. 




By the treatment that the artist imposes on reality, he declares the 
intensity of his rejection of it. But what he retains of reality, in the 
universe that he creates, reveals the degree of consent that he gives to 
at least one part of reality - which he draws from the shadows of 
evolution to bring it to the light of creation. In the final analysis, if the 
rejection is total, reality is then completely banished and the result 
is a purely formal work. If, on the other hand, the artist chooses, for 
reasons often imconnected with art, to exalt crude reality, the result 
is then realism. In the first case, the primitive creative impulse in 
which rebellion and consent, afiirmation and negation are closely 
allied, is adulterated to the advantage of rejection. It then represents 
formal escapism of which our period has furnished so many examples 
and of which the nihilist origin is quite evident. In this second case, 
the artist claims to give the world unity by withdrawing from it all 
privileged perspectives. In this sense, he confesses his need for unity, 
even a degraded form of unity. But he also renounces the first require- 
ment of artistic creation. To deny the relative freedom of the creative 
mind more forcibly, he affirms the immediate totality of the world. 
The act of creation itself is denied in both these kinds of work. 
Originally, it only refused one aspect of reahty while simultaneously 
aflarming another. Whether it comes to the point of rejecting all 
reahty or of aflirming nothing but reahty, it denies itself each time 
either by absolute negation or by absolute affirmation. It can be seen 
that, on the plane of aesthetics, this analysis coincides with the analy- 
sis we have sketched on the historic plane. 

But just as there is no nihilism which ends by supposing a value, 
and no materiahsm which, being self-conceived, does not end by 
contradicting itself, so formal art and reahst art are absurd concepts. 
No art can completely reject reahty. The Gorgon is, undoubtedly, a 
purely imaginary creature; its face and the serpents that crown it are 



part of nature. Formalism can succeed in purging itself more and 
more of real content, but there is always a limit. Even pure geometry, 
where abstract painting sometimes ends, still derives its colour and 
its conformity to perspective from the exterior world. The only real 
formalism is silence. Moreover, realism cannot dispense with a mini- 
mum of interpretation and arbitrariness. Even the very best photo- 
graphs betray reality - they result from an act of selection and impose 
a limit on something that has none. The realist artist and the formal 
artist try to find unity where it does not exist, in reality in its crudest 
state, or in imaginative creation which wants to expel all reality. On 
the contrary, unity in art appears at the limit of the transformation 
which the artist imposes on reality. It cannot dispense with either. 
This correction^ which the artist imposes by his language and by a 
redistribution of elements derived from reality, is called style and 
gives the recreated universe its unity and its boundaries. It attempts, 
in the work of every rebel, and succeeds in the case of a few geniuses, 
to impose its laws on the world. ‘Poets ^ said Shelley, ‘are the un- 
acknowledged legislators of the world.’ 

Romantic art, by its origins, cannot fail to illustrate this vocation. 
It can neither totally consent to reality nor turn aside from it com- 
pletely. The purely imaginary does not exist and, even if it did exist 
in an ideal novel which would be purely disincamate, it would have 
no artistic significance, in that the primary necessity for a mind in 
search of unity is that the unity should be communicable. From an- 
other point of view, the unity of pure reasoning is a false unity since 
it is not based on reality. The sentimental love story, the horror story, 
and the edifying novel deviate from art to the great or small extent that 
they disobey this law. Real literary creation, on the other hand, uses 
reality and only reality with all its warmth and its blood, its passion 
and its outcries. It simply adds something which transfigures reality. 

Likewise, what is commonly called the realistic novel tries to be 
the reproduction of reality in its immediate aspects. To reproduce the 

* Delacroix notes, and this is a penetrating observation, that it is necessary 
to correct the inflexible perspective which (in reality) falsifies the appearance 
of objects ‘fjy virtue of precision* 



elements of reality without making any kind of selection would be, if 
such an undertaking could be imagined, nothing but a sterile repeti- 
tion of creation. Realism should only be the nieans of expression of 
religious genius - Spanish art admirably illustrates this contention - 
or, at the other extreme, the artistic expressions of monkeys which are 
quite satisfied with mere imitation. In fact, art is never reahstic though 
sometimes it is tempted to be. To be really realistic a description 
would have to be endless. Where Stendhal describes, in one phrase, 
Lucien Leuwen’s entrance into a room, the realistic artist ought, 
logically, to fill several volumes with descriptions of characters and 
settings, still without succeeding in exhausting every detail. Realism 
is indefinite enumeration. By this it reveals that its real ambition is 
conquest, not of the unity, but of the totality of the real world. Now 
we understand why it should be the official aesthetic of a totalitarian 
revolution. But the impossibility of such an aesthetic has already been 
demonstrated. Realistic novels select their material, despite them- 
selves, from reality, because the choice and the conquest of reality 
are absolute conditions of thought and expression. To write is already 
to choose. There is thus an arbitrary aspect to reality, just as there is 
an arbitrary aspect to the ideal, which makes a realistic novel an 
implicit problem novel. To reduce the unity of the world of fiction to 
the totality of reality can only be done by means of an a priori judge- 
ment which eliminates form, reality, and everything that conflicts 
with doctrine. Therefore, so-called socialist realism is condemned by 
the very logic of its nihilism to accumulate the advantages of the edi- 
fying novel and propaganda literature. 

Whether the event enslaves the creator or whether the creator 
claims to deny the event completely, creation is nevertheless reduced 
to the degraded forms of nihilist art. It is the same thing with crea- 
tion as with civilization : it presumes uninterrupted tension between 
form and matter, between evolution and the mind, and between 
history and values. If the equihbrium is destroyed the result is 
dictatorship or anarchy, propaganda or formal insanity. In either case 
creation, which coincides always with rational freedom, is impossible. 
Whether it succumbs to the intoxication of abstraction and formal 



obscurantism, or wheAer it appeals to Ac whip of the crudest and 
most ingenious realism, modem art, in its semi-totality, is an art of 
tyrants and slaves, not of creators. 

A work in which Ae content overflows Ae form, in which the form 
Aowns the content, only bespeaks an unconvinced and unconvincing 
unity. In this domain, as in others, any unity which is not a unity of 
style is a mutilation. Whatever may be the chosen point of view of an 
artist, one principle remains common to all creators: stylization, 
which supposes Ae simultaneous existence of reality and of Ae mind 
which gives reality its form. Through style, the creative reconstructs 
Ae world and always with the same slight distortion which is Ae 
mark of bo A art and protest. Whether it is the magnification of Ae 
microscope which Proust brings to bear on human experience or, on 
Ae contrary, the absurd insignificance wiA which Ae American 
novel endows its characters, reality is in some way artificial. The 
creative force, Ae fecundity of rebellion are contained in this Astor- 
tion which represents the style and tone of a work. Art is an impossible 
demand given expression and form. When Ae most agonizing pro- 
test finds its most resolute form of expression, rebellion satisfies its 
real aspirations and derives, from Ais fidelity to itself, a creative 
strength. Despite the fact that this runs counter to Ae prejudices of 
Ae times, the greatest style in art is the expression of the most 
passionate rebellion. Just as genuine classicism is only romanticism 
subdued, genius is a rebellion which has created its own limits. That 
is why there is no genius, contrary to what we are taught today, in 
negation and pure despair. 

This means, at the same time, Aat great style is not a mere formal 
virtue. It is a mere formal virtue when it is sought out for its own 
sake to Ae detriment of reality, but then it is not great style. It no 
longer invents, but imitates - like all academic works ~ while real 
creation is, in its own fashion, revolutionary. If stylization must be 
pushed very far, since it sums up the intervention of man and Ae 
desire for rectification which the artist brings to his reproduction of 
reality, it is nevertheless desirable that it should remain invisible so 
Aat Ae demand which gives birA to art should be expressed in its 



most extreme tension. Great style is invisible stylization or rather 
stylization incarnate. ‘There is never any need’, says Flaubert, ‘to 
be afraid of exaggeration in art.’ But he adds that the exaggeration 
should be ‘continuous and proportionate to itself’. When stylization 
is exaggerated and obvious, the work becomes nothing but pure 
nostalgia ; the unity it is trying to conquer has nothing to do with con- 
crete unity. On the other hand, when reality is delivered over to 
unadorned fact or to insignificant stylization, then the concrete is 
presented without unity. Great art, style, and the true aspect of 
rebellion lie somewhere between these two heresies. 


In art, rebellion is consummated and perpetuated in the act of real 
creation, not in criticism or commentary. Revolution, in its turn, can 
only affirm itself in a civilization and not in terror or tyranny. The 
two questions posed, henceforth, by our times to a society caught in a 
dilemma - Is creation possible ? Is the revolution possible ? - are in 
reality only one question which concerns the renaissance of civilization. 

The revolution and art of the twentieth century are tributaries of 
the same nihilism and live in the same contradiction. They deny what 
they affirm, however, even in their very actions, and both try to find 
an impossible solution through terror. The contemporary revolution 
believes that it is inaugurating a new world when it is really only the 
contradictory climax of the ancient world. Finally capitalist society 
and revolutionary society are one and the same thing to the extent 
that they submit themselves to the same means - industrial produc- 
tion - and to the same promise. But one makes its promise in the 
name of formal principles which it is quite incapable of incarnating 
and which are denied by the methods it employs. The other justifies 
its prophecy in the name of the only reality it recognizes and ends by 
mutilating reality. The society based on production is only produc- 
tive, not creative. 



Contemporary art, because it is nihilistic, also flounders between 
formalism and realism. Reahsm, moreover, is just as much bourgeois, 
when it is ‘tough’, as socialist when it becomes edifying. Formalism 
belongs just as much to the society of the past, when it takes the form 
of gratuitous abstraction, as to the society which claims to be the 
society of the future ~ when it becomes propaganda. Language 
destroyed by irrational negation becomes lost in verbal delirium; 
subject to determinist ideology it is summed up in the word of com- 
mand. Half-way between the two lies art. If the rebel must simul- 
taneously rejea the frenzy of annihilation and the acceptance of 
totality, the artist must simultaneously escape from the passion for 
formality and the totalitarian aesthetic of reality. The world today is 
one, in fact, but its unity is the unity of nihilism. Civilization is only 
possible if, by renouncing the nihilism of formal principles and 
nihilism without principles, the world rediscovers the road to a 
creative synthesis. In the same way, in art, the time of perpetual 
commentary and reportage is at the point of death; it announces the 
advent of creative artists. 

But art and society, creation and revolution must, to prepare for 
this event, rediscover the source of rebellion where refusal and accep- 
tance, in unique and the universal, the individual and history balance 
each other in a condition of the most acute tension. Rebellion, in 
itself, is not an element of civilization. But it is a preliminary to all 
civilization. Rebellion alone, in the blind alley in which we live, allows 
us to hope for the future of which Nietzsche dreamed : ‘ Instead of the 
judge and the oppressor, the creator’. This formula certainly does not 
authorize the ridiculous illusion of a civilization controlled by artists. 
It only illuminates the drama of our times in which work, entirely 
subordinated to production, has ceased to be creative. Industrial 
society will only open the way to a new civilization by restoring to the 
worker the dignity of a creator; in other words, by making him apply 
his interest and his intelligence as much to the work itself as to what it 
produces. The type of civilization which is inevitable will not be able 
to separate, amongst classes as well as in the individual, the worker 
from the creator; any more than artistic creation dreams of form and 



foundation, history and the mind In this way it will bestow on every- 
one the dignity which rebellion affirms. It would be unjust, and 
moreover Utopian, for Shakespeare to direct the shoemakers’ union. 
But it would be equally disastrous for the shoemakers’ union to 
ignore Shakespeare. Shakespeare without the shoemakers serves as 
an alibi for tyranny. The shoemaker without Shakespeare is absorbed 
by tyranny when he does not contribute to its propagation. Every act 
of creation denies, by its mere existence, the world of master and 
slave. The appalling society of tyrants and slaves in which we survive 
will only find its death and transfiguration on the level of creation. 

But the fact that creation is necessary does not perforce imply that 
it is possible. A creative period in art is determined by the order of a 
particular style applied to the disorder of a particular time. It gives 
form and formulae to contemporary passions. Thus it no longer 
suffices, for a creative artist, to repeat, say, the words of Mme de La 
Fayette in a period when our morose princes have no more time for 
love. Today when collective passions have stolen a march on indivi- 
dual passions, the ecstasy of love can always be controlled by art. But 
the ineluctable problem is also to control collective passions and the 
historic struggle. The scope of art, despite the regrets of the plagia- 
rists, has been extended from psychology to the human condition. 
When the passions of the times put the fate of the whole world at 
stake, creation wants to dominate the whole of destiny. But, at the 
same time, it maintains, in the face of totality, the affirmation of 
unity. In simple words, creation is then imperilled, first by itself, and 
then by the spirit of totality. To create, today, is to create dangerously. 

Collective passions must, in fact, be lived through and experienced, 
at least relatively. At the same time that he experiences them, the 
artist is devoured by them. The result is that our period is rather the 
period of reportage than the period of the work of art. The exercise 
of these passions, finally, entails far greater chances of death than in 
the time of love and ambition, in that the only way of living collective 
passions is to be willing to die for them or by their hand. The greatest 
opportunity for authenticity is, today, the greatest defeat of art. If 
creation is impossible during wars and revolutions, then we shall have 



no creative artists, for war and revolution are our lot. The myth of 
unlimited production brings war in its train as inevitably as clouds 
announce a storm. Wars lay waste to the West and kill a genius or 
two. Hardly has it arisen from the ruins when the bourgeois system 
sees the revolutionary system advancing upon it. The genius has not 
even had time to be reborn; the war which threatens us will, perhaps, 
kill all those who might have been geniuses. If a creative classicism is, 
nevertheless, proved possible, we must recognize that, even though it 
is rendered illustrious by one name alone, it will be the work of an 
entire generation. The chances of defeat, in the century of destruc- 
tion, can only be compensated for by the hazard of numbers ; in other 
words, the chance that of ten authentic artists one, at least, will sur- 
vive, take charge of the first utterances of his brother artists and 
succeed in finding in his life both the time for passion and the time 
for creation. The artist, whether he likes it or not, can no longer be 
a solitary, except in the melancholy triumph which he owes to all his 
fellow-artists. Rebellious art also ends by revealing the ‘We are’ and 
with it the way to a burning humility. 

Meanwhile, the triumphant revolution, in the aberrations of its 
nihilism, menaces those who, in defiance of it, claim to maintain the 
existence of unity in totality. One of the implications of history today, 
and still more of the history of tomorrow, is the struggle between the 
artists and the new conquerors, between the witnesses to the creative 
revolution and the founders of the nihilist revolution. As to the out- 
come of the struggle, it is only possible to make inspired guesses. At 
least we know that it must, hereafter, be carried on to the bitter end. 
Modem conquerors can kill, but do not seem to be able to create. 
Artists know how to create but cannot really kill. Murderers are only 
very exceptionally found among artists. In the long run, therefore, 
art in our revolutionary societies must die. But then the revolution 
will have lived its allotted span. Each time that the revolution kills in 
a man the artist that he might have been, it attenuates itself a little 
more. If, finally, the conquerors succeed in moulding the world 
according to their laws, it will not prove that quality is king but that 
this world is hell. In this hell, the place of art will coincide with that of 



vanquished rebellion, a blind and empty hope in the pit of despair. 
Ernst Dwinger in his Siberian Diary mentions a German lieutenant - 
for years a prisoner in a camp where cold and hunger were almost 
unbearable - who constructed himself a silent piano with wooden 
keys. In the most abject misery, perpetually surrounded by a ragged 
mob, he composed a strange music which was audible to him alone. 
And for us who have been thrown into hell, mysterious melodies and 
the torturing images of a vanquished beauty will always bring us, in 
the midst of crime and folly, the echo of that harmonious insurrection 
which bears witness, throughout the centuries, to the greatness of 

But hell can endure for only a limited period and life will begin 
again one day. History may perhaps have an end; but our task is not 
to terminate it but to create it, in the image of what we henceforth 
know to be true. Art, at least, teaches us that man cannot be explained 
by history alone and that he also finds a reason for his existence in the 
order of nature. For him, the great god Pan is not dead. His most dis- 
tinctive act of rebellion, while it affirms the value and the dignity 
common to all men, obstinately claims, so as to satisfy its hunger for 
unity, an integral part of the reality whose name is beauty. One can 
reject all history and yet accept the world of the sea and the stars. 
The rebels who wish to ignore nature and beauty are condemned to 
banish from history everything with which they want to construct 
the dignity of existence and of labour. Every great reformer tries to 
create in history what Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, and Tolstoy 
knew how to create : a world always ready to satisfy the hunger for 
freedom and dignity which every man carries in his heart. Beauty, no 
doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolu- 
tions will have need of beauty. The procedure of beauty, which is to 
resist the real while conferring unity upon it, is also the procedure 
of rebellion. Is it possible eternally to reject injustice without ceasing 
to acclaim the nature of man and the beauty of the world? Our 
answer is yes. This ethic, at once unsubmissive and loyal, is in any 
event the only one which lights the way to a truly realistic revolution. 
In upholding beauty, we prepare the way for the day of regeneration 



when civilization will give first place - far ahead of the formal prin- 
ciples and degraded values of history - to this living virtue on which is 
founded the common dignity of man and the world he lives in, and 
which we now have to define in the face of a world which insults it. 




Far from this source of life, however, Europe and the revolution are 
being shaken to the core by a spectacular convulsion. During the last 
century, man cast off the fetters of religion. Hardly was he free, how- 
ever, when he created new and utterly intolerable chains. Virtue dies 
but is bom again, more exacting than ever. It preaches an ear- 
splitting sermon on charity to all comers and a form of love from a 
distance which makes a mockery of contemporary humanism. At this 
point of coagulation, it can only wreak havoc. A day comes when it 
becomes bitter, immediately adopts police methods, and, for the 
salvation of mankind, assumes the tawdry aspect of an inquisition. 
At the climax of contemporary tragedy, we therefore become inti- 
mates of crime. The sources of life and of creation seem exhausted. 
Fear paralyses a Europe peopled with phantoms and machines. 
Between two holocausts, scaffolds are installed in underground 
caverns where humanist executioners celebrate their new cult, in 
silence. What cry would ever trouble them ? The poets themselves, 
confronted with the murder of their brother men, proudly declare 
that their hands are clean. The whole world absent-mindedly turns 
its back on these crimes; the victims have reached the extremity of 
their disgrace: they are a bore. In ancient times the blood of murder 
at least produced a religious horror and in this way sanctified the 
value of life. The real condemnation of the period we live in is, on 
the contrary, that it leads us to think that it is not bloodthirsty 
enough. Blood is no longer visible; it does not bespatter the faces of 



our Pharisees visibly enough. This is the extreme of nihilism; blind 
and savage murder becomes an oasis and the imbecile criminal seems 
positively refreshing in comparison to our highly intelligent execu- 

Having believed for a long time that it could fight against God with 
all humanity as its ally, the European mind then perceived that it must 
also, if it did not want to die, fight against men. The rebels who 
united against death and wanted to construct, on the foundation of 
the human species, a triumphant immortality, are terrified at the 
prospea of being obliged to kill in their turn. Nevertheless, if they 
retreat they must accept death; if they advance they must accept 
murder. Rebellion, cut off from its origins and cynically travestied, 
oscillates, on all levels, between sacrifice and murder. The form of 
justice that it advocated and which it hoped was impartial has 
transpired to be summary. The kingdom of grace has been conquered, 
but the kingdom of justice is crumbling too. Europe is dying of this 
deception. Rebellion pleaded for the innocence of mankind and now 
it has hardened its heart against its own culpability. Hardly does it 
start off in search of totality when it receives as its portion the most 
desperate sensations of solitude. It wanted to enter into communion 
with mankind and now it has no other hope but to assemble, one by 
one, throughout the years, the soHtary men who fight their way to- 
wards unity. 

Must we therefore renounce every kind of rebellion, whether we 
accept, with all its injustices, a society which outlives its usefulness, 
or whether we decide, cynically, to serve, against the interest of man, 
the inexorable advance of history? After all if the logic of our 
reflection should lead to a cowardly conformism it would have to be 
accepted as certain families sometimes accept inevitable dishonour. 
If it must also justify aU the varieties of attempts against man, and 
even his systematic destruction, it would be necessary to consent to 
this suicide. The desire for justice would finally realize its ambition: 
the disappearance of a world of tradesmen and police. 

But are we still living in a rebellious world? Has not rebellion 
become, on the contrary, the alibi of a new variety of tyrant ? Can the 



‘We are* contained in the movement of rebellion, without shame and 
without subterfuge, be reconciled with murder ? In assigning oppres- 
sion a limit within which begins the dignity common to all men, 
rebellion defined a primary value. It put in the first rank of its frame 
of reference an obvious mutual complicity amongst men, a common 
texture, the solidarity of chains, a communication between human 
being and human being which makes men similar and united. In this 
way, it compelled the mind to take a first step in defiance of an absurd 
world. By this progress, it rendered still more acute the problem which 
it must now solve in regard to murder. On the level of the absurd, in 
fact, murder would only give rise to logical contradictions; on the 
level of rebellion it is mental laceration. For it is now a question of 
deciding if it is possible to kill someone, whose resemblance to our- 
selves we have at last recognized and whose identity we have just 
sanctified. When we have only just conquered sohtude, must we then 
re-establish it definitively by legitimizing the act which isolates every- 
thing ? To force solitude on a man who has just come to understand 
that he is not alone, is that not the definitive crime against man ? 

Logically, one should reply that murder and rebellion are contra- 
dictory. If a single master should, in fact, be killed, the rebel in a 
certain way is no longer justified in using the term ‘community of 
men’ from which he derived his justification. If this world has no 
higher meaning, if man is only responsible to man, it suffices for a 
man to remove one single human being from the society of the living 
to automatically exclude himself from it. When Cain kills Abel, he 
flees to the desert. And if the murderers are legion, then this 
legion lives in the desert and in the other kind of solitude called 

From the moment that he strikes, the rebel cuts the world in two. 
He rebelled in the name of the identity of man with man and he 
sacrifices this identity by consecrating the difference in blood. His 
only existence, in the midst of suffering and oppression, was con- 
tained in this identity. The same movement, which intended to 
affir m it, thus brings an end to its existence. It can claim that some, 
or even all, are with it. But if one single human being is missing in the 



world of fraternity then this world is immediately depopulated. If 
we are not, then I am not and this ejqplains the infinite sadness of 
Kaliayev and the silence of Saint-Just. The rebels, who have decided 
to gain their ends through violence and murder, have in vain replaced, 
in order to preserve the hope of existing, the ‘we are’ by a ‘we shall 
be’. When the murderer and the victim have disappeared, the com- 
munity will provide its own justification without them. The excep- 
tion having lasted its appointed time, the rule will once more become 
possible. On the level of history, as in individual Ufe, murder is thus 
a desperate exception or it is nothing. The disturbance that it brings 
to the order of things offers no hope of a future; it is an exception and 
therefore it can be neither utilitarian nor systematic as the purely 
historic attitude would have it. It is the limit that can only be reached 
but once and after which one must die. The rebel has only one way of 
reconciling himself with his act of murder if he allows himself to be 
led into performing it: to accept his own death and sacrifice. He kills 
and dies so that it shall be clear that murder is impossible. He demon- 
strates that, in reality, he prefers the ‘We are’ to the ‘We shall be’. 
The calm happiness of Kabayev is his prison, the serenity of Saint- 
Just when he walks towards the scaffold are explained in their turn. 
Beyond that farthest frontier, contradiction and nihilism begin. 


Irrational crime and rational crime, in fact, both equally betray the 
value brought to hght by the movement of rebellion. Let us first con- 
sider the former. He who denies everything and assumes the autho- 
rity to kill - Sade, the homicidal dandy, the Unique, Karamazov, the 
supporters of the ruthless criminal - lay claim to nothing short of 
total freedom and the unlimited deployment of human pride. Nihi- 
lism confounds creator and created in the same blind fury. Suppres- 
sing every principle of hope, it rejects the idea of any limit, and in 
blind indignation, which no longer even has a reason, ends with the 



conclusion that it is a matter of indifference to kill when the victim is 
in any case already condemned to death. 

But its reasons - the mutual recognition of a common destiny and 
the communication of men between themselves - are always valid. 
Rebellion proclaims them and undertakes to serve them. In the same 
way it defines, contrary to nihilism, a rule of conduct which has no 
need to await the end of history or to explain its actions and which is, 
nevertheless, not formal. Contrary to Jacobin morality, it took the 
part of everything which escapes from rules and laws. It opened the 
way to a morality which, far from obeying abstract principles, only 
discovers them in the heat of battle and in the incessant movement 
of debate. Nothing justifies the assertion that these principles have 
existed eternally, nothing serves to declare that they will one day 
exist. But they do exist, in the very period in which we exist. With 
us they deny, throughout all history, servitude, falsehood, and terror. 

There is, in fact, nothing in common between a master and a slave; 
it is impossible to speak and communicate with a person who has been 
reduced to servitude. Instead of the implicit and untrammelled dia- 
logue through which we come to recognize our similarity and conse- 
crate our destiny, servitude gives rise to the most terrible of silences. 
If injustice is bad for the rebel, it is not because it contradias an 
eternal idea of justice, but because it perpetuates the silent hostility 
which separates the oppressor and the oppressed. It kills the small 
part of existence which can be realized on this earth through the 
mutual understanding of men. In the same way, since the man who 
lies shuts himself off from other men, falsehood is therefore proscribed 
and, on a sHghtly lower level, murder and violence, which impose 
definitive silence. The mutual understanding and communication 
discovered by rebellion can only survive in the free exchange of 
dialogue. Every ambiguity, every misunderstanding, leads to death; 
clear language and simple words are the only salvation from it.* The 
climax of every tragedy lies in the deafness of its heroes. Plato is right 
and not Moses and Nietzsche. Dialogue on the level of mankind is 

* It is worth noting that the language peculiar to totalitarian doctrines is 
always a scholastic or administrative language. 



less costly than the gospel preached by totalitarian regimes in the 
form of a monologue dictated from the top of a lonely mountain. On 
the stage as in reality, the monologue precedes death. Every rebel, by 
the movement which sets him in opposition to the oppressor, there- 
fore pleads for life, undertakes to struggle against servitude, false- 
hood, and terror and affirms, in a flash, that these three afflictions are 
the cause of silence between men, obscure them from one another 
and prevent them from rediscovering themselves in the only value 
which can save them from nihilism - the long complicity between 
men at grips with their destiny. 

In a flash - but that is time enough to say, provisionally, that the 
most extreme form of freedom, the freedom to kill, is not compatible 
with the motives of rebellion. Rebellion is in no way the demand for 
total freedom. On the contrary, rebellion puts total freedom up for 
trial. The object of its attack is exactly the unlimited power which 
authorizes a superior to violate the forbidden frontier. Far from 
demanding general independence, the rebel wants it to be recognized 
that freedom has its limits everywhere that a human being is to be 
found - the limit being precisely that human being’s power to rebel. 
The most profound reason of rebellious intransigence is to be found 
here. The more aware rebellion is of demanding a justifiable limit, the 
more inflexible it becomes. The rebel demands undoubtedly a certain 
degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does 
he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of 
others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for 
all; the freedom he refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy. He is not 
only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of 
master and slave. Therefore there is, thanks to rebellion, something 
more in history than the relation between mastery and servitude. 
Unlimited power is not the only law. It is in the name of another value 
that the rebel affirms the impossibility of total freedom while he 
claims for himself the relative freedom necessary to recognize this 
impossibility. Every human freedom, at its very roots, is therefore 
relative. Absolute freedom, which is the freedom to kill, is the only 
one which does not claim - at the same tune as itself ~ the things 



which limit and obliterate it. Thus it cuts itself off from its roots 
and - abstract and malevolent shade - wanders haphazardly 
until such time as it imagines that it has found substance in some 

It is then possible to say that rebellion, when it emerges into 
destruction, is illogical. Claiming the unity of the human condition, 
it is a force of life and not of death. Its most profound logic is not the 
logic of destruction; it is the logic of creation. Its movement, in order 
to be authentic, must never abandon any of the terms of the con- 
tradiction which sustains it. It must be faithful to the yes that it 
contains as well as to the no which nihilistic interpretations isolate in 
rebellion. The logic of the rebel is to want to serve justice so as not to 
add to the injustice of the human condition, to insist on plain langu- 
age so as not to increase the universal falsehood, and to wager, in 
spite of human misery, for happiness. Nihihstic passion, adding to 
falsehood and injustice, destroys, in its fury, its ancient demands and 
thus deprives rebellion of its most cogent reasons. It kills, in the fond 
conviction that this world is dedicated to death. The consequence of 
rebellion, on the contrary, is to refuse to legitimize murder because 
rebelhon, in principle, is a protest against death. 

But if man were capable of introducing, entirely on his own, unity 
into the world, if he could establish the reign, by his own decree, of 
sincerity, innocence, and justice: he would be God himself. Equally, 
if he could accomplish all this, there would be no more reasons for 
rebellion. If rebellion exists, it is because falsehood, injustice, and 
violence are part of the rebel’s condition. He cannot, therefore, abso- 
lutely claim not to kill or lie, without renouncing his rebellion and 
accepting, once and for all, evil and murder. But nor can he agree to 
kill and lie, since the inverse reasoning which would justify murder 
and violence would also destroy the reasons for his insurrection. Thus 
the rebel can never find peace. He knows what is good and, despite 
himself, does evil. The value which supports him is never given to 
him once and for all - he must fight to uphold it, unceasingly. Again 
the existence he achieves collapses if rebellion does not support him. 
In any cas^ if he is not always able not to kill, either directly or 



indirectly, he can put his conviction and passion to work at diminish- 
ing the chances of murder around him. His only virtue will lie in 
never 3delding to the impulse to allow himself to be engulfed in the 
shadows which surroimd him and in obstinately dragging the chains 
of evil, with which he is bound, towards the light of good. If he is 
finally forced to kfil, he will accept death himself. Faithful to his 
origins, the rebel demonstrates by sacrifice that his real freedom is not 
freedom from murder but freedom from his own death. At the same 
time, he achieves honour in metaphysical terms. Thus Kaliayev 
climbs the gallows and visibly designates to all his fellow-men the 
exact limit where the honour of man begins and ends. 


Rebellion also deploys itself in history, which demands not only 
exemplary choices, but also efficacious attitudes. Rational murder 
runs the risk of finding itself justified by history. The contradiction 
of rebellion, then, is reflected in an apparently insoluble antithesis, of 
which the two counterparts in politics are on the one hand the 
opposition between violence and non-violence, and on the other hand 
the opposition between justice and freedom. Let us try and define 
them in the terms of their paradox. 

The positive value contained in the initial movement of rebellion 
supposes the renunciation of violence committed on principle. It 
consequently entails the impossibility of stabilizing a revolution. 
Rebellion is, incessantly, prey to this contradiction. On the level of 
history it becomes even more insoluble. If I renounce the project of 
making human identity respected, I abdicate in favour of oppression, 
I renounce rebellion and fall back on an attitude of nihilistic consent. 
Then nihilism becomes conservative. If I insist that human identity 
should be recognized as existing then I engage in an action which, to 
succeed, supposes a cynical attitude towards violence and denies this 
identity and rebellion itself. To examine the contradiction still 



further, if the unity of the world cannot come from on high, man must 
construct it on his own level, in history. History without a value to 
transfigure it is controlled by the law of expediency. Historic materia- 
lism, determinism, violence, negation of every form of freedom which 
does not coincide with expediency and the world of silent courage are 
the highly legitimate consequences of a pure philosophy of history. 
Only a philosophy of eternity, in the world today, could justify non- 
violence. To absolute worship of history it would make the objection 
of the creation of history and of the historic situation it would ask 
from whence it had sprung. Finally, it would put the responsibility 
for justice in God’s hands, thus consecrating injustice. Equally, its 
answers, in their turn, would insist on faith. The objection will be 
raised of evil, and of the paradox of an all-powerful and malevolent, 
or benevolent and sterile, God. The choice will remain open between 
grace and history, God or the sword. 

What, then, should be the attitude of the rebel ? He cannot turn 
away from the world and from history without denying the very 
principle of his rebellion, nor can he choose eternal life without 
resigning himself, in one sense, to evil. If, for example, he is not a 
Christian, he should go to the bitter end. But to the bitter end means 
to choose history absolutely and with it murder, if murder is essential 
to history: to accept the justification of murder is again to deny his 
origins. If the rebel makes no choice, he chooses the silence and 
slavery of others. If, in a moment of despair, he declared that he opts 
both against God and against history, he bears witness to pure free- 
dom; in other words, to nothing. In our period of history and in the 
impossible condition in which he finds himself, of being unable to 
affirm a superior motive which does not have its limits in evil, his 
apparent dilemma is silence or murder - in either case, a surrender. 

And it is the same again with justice and freedom. These two 
demands are already to be found at the beginning of the rebel move- 
ment, and are to be found again in the first impetus of revolution. 
The history of revolutions demonstrates, however, that they almost 
always conflict as though their mutual demands were irreconcilable. 
Absolute freedom is the right of the strongest to dominate. Therefore 



it prolongs the conflicts which profit by injustice. Absolute justice is 
achieved by the suppression of all contradiction : therefore it destroys 
freedom. The revolution to achieve justice, through freedom, ends 
by aligning them against one another. Thus there exists in every 
revolution, once the class which dominated up to then has been 
liquidated, a stage in which it gives birth, itself, to a movement 
of rebellion which indicates its limits and announces its chances of 
failure. The revolution, first of all, proposes to satisfy the spirit of 
rebellion which has given rise to it; then it is compelled to deny it, the 
better to affirm itself. There is, it would seem, an ineradicable op- 
position between the movement of rebellion and the attainments of 

But these contradictions only exist in the absolute. They suppose a 
world and a method of thought without premeditation. There is, in 
fact, no conciliation possible between a god who is totally separated 
from history and a history purged of all transcendence. Their 
representatives on earth are, indeed, the yogi and the commissar. But 
the difference between these two types of men is not, as has been 
stated, the difference between ineffectual purity and expediency. The 
former chooses only the ineffectiveness of abstention and the second 
the ineffectiveness of destruction. Because both reject the conciliatory 
value that rebellion, on the contrary, reveals, they only offer us two 
kinds of impotence, both equally removed from reality, that of good 
and that of evil. 

If, in fact, to ignore history comes to the same as denying reality, 
it is still alienating oneself from reality to consider history as a com- 
pletely self-sufficient absolute. The revolution of the twentieth cen- 
tury believes that it can avoid nihilism and remain faithful to true 
rebellion, by replacing God by history. In reality, it fortifies the 
former and betrays the latter. History in its pure form furnished no 
value by itself. Therefore one must live by the principles of immediate 
expediency and keep silent or tell lies. Systematic violence, or im- 
posed silence, selfishness or concerted falsehood become the inevit- 
able rule. Purely historic thought is therefore nihilistic: it accepts 
wholeheartedly the evil of history and in this way is opposed to 



rebellion. It is useless for it to affirm, in compensation, the absolute 
rationality of history, for historic reason will never be fulfilled and 
will never have its full meaning or value until the end of history. In 
the meanwhile, it is necessary to act, and to act without a moral rule 
in order that the definitive rule should one day be realized. Cynicism 
as a political attitude is only logical as a function of absolute thought; 
in other words, absolute nihilism on the one hand, absolute ration- 
alism on the other. As for the consequences, there is no difference 
between the two attitudes. From the moment that they are accepted, 
the earth becomes a desert. 

In reality the purely historic absolute is not even conceivable. 
Jaspers’ thought, for example, in its essentials, underlines the im- 
possibility of man’s grasping totality, since he lives in the midst of 
this totality. History, as an entirety, could only exist in the eyes of an 
observer outside it and outside the world. History only exists, in the 
final analysis, for God. Thus it is impossible to act according to plans 
embracing the totality of universal history. Any historic enterprise 
can therefore only be a more or less reasonable or justifiable 
adventure. It is, primarily, a risk. In so far as it is a risk it cannot be 
used to justify any excess or any ruthless and absolutist position. 

If, on the other hand, rebellion could found a philosophy it would 
be a philosophy of limits, of calculated ignorance, and of risk. He 
who does not know everything cannot kill everything. The rebel, far 
from making an absolute of history, rejects and disputes it, in the 
name of a concept which he has of his own nature. He refuses his 
condition, and his condition to a large extent is historical. Injustice, 
the transience of time, death - all are manifest in history. In spum- 
ing them, history itself is spumed. Most certainly the rebel does not 
deny the history which surrounds him; it is in terms of this that he 
attempts the affirmation of himself. But confronted with it he feels 
like the artist confronted with reality; he spurns it without escaping 
from it. He has never succeeded in creating an absolute history. Even 
though he can participate, by the force of events, in the crime of 
history, he cannot necessarily legitimate it. Rational crime not only 
cannot be admitted on the level of rebellion, but also signifies the 



death of rebellion. To make this evidence more convincing^ rational 
crime exercises itself, in the first place, on rebels whose insurrection 
contests a history which is henceforth deified. 

The mystification peculiar to the mind which claims to be revolu- 
tionary today sums up and increases bourgeois mystification. It 
contrives, by the promise of absolute justice, the acceptance of per- 
petual injustice, of unlimited compromise, and of mdignity. Rebel- 
lion itself only aspires to the relative and can only promise an assured 
dignity coupled with relative justice. It supposes a limit at which the 
community of man is established. Its universe is the universe of 
relative values. Instead of saying, with Hegel and Marx, that all is 
necessary, it only repeats that all is possible and that, at a certain 
point, on the farthest frontier, it is worth making the supreme sacri- 
fice for the sake of the possible. Between God and history, the yogi 
and the commissar, it opens a difficult path where contradictions 
may exist and thrive. Let us consider the two contradictions, given as 
an example, in this way. 

A revolutionary action which wishes to be coherent in terms of its 
origins should be embodied in an active consent to the relative. It 
should express fidelity to the human condition. Uncompromising as 
to its means, it should accept an approximation as far as its ends are 
concerned and, so that the approximation should become more and 
more accurately defined, it should demand absolute freedom of 
speech. Thus it would preserve the common existence which justifies 
its insurrection. In particular, it should preserve, as an absolute right, 
the permanent possibility to express one’s thoughts. This defines a 
particular line of conduct in regard to justice and freedom. There is 
no justice in society without natural or civil rights as its basis. There 
are no rights without expression of those rights. If the rights are 
expressed without hesitation it is more than probable that, sooner or 
later, the justice which they postulate will come to the world. To 
conquer existence, we must start from the small amount of existence 
which we find in ourselves and not deny it from the very beginning. 
To silence the expression of rights until justice is established, is to 
silence it for ever since it will have no more occasion to speak if 



justice reigns forever. Once more, we thus confide justice into the 
keeping of those who alone have the ability to make themselves 
heard - those in power. For centuries, justice and existence as dis- 
pensed by those in power have been considered a favour. To kill 
freedom in order to establish the reign of justice, comes to the same as 
resuscitating the idea of grace without divine intercession and of 
restoring by a mystifying reaction the mystical body in its basest 
elements. Even when justice is not realized, freedom preserves the 
power to protest and guarantees human communication. Justice in a 
silent world, justice enslaved and mute, destroys mutual complicity 
and finally can no longer be justice. The revolution of the twentieth 
century has arbitrarily separated, for over-ambitious ends of con- 
quest, two inseparable ideas. Absolute freedom mocks at justice. 
Absolute justice denies freedom. To be fruitful, the two ideas must 
find their limits in one another. No man considers that his condition 
is free if it is not at the same time just, nor just unless it is free. Free- 
dom, precisely, cannot even be imagined without the power of saying 
clearly what is just and what is unjust, of claiming all existence in the 
name of a small part of existence which refuses to die. Finally there 
is a justice, although a very different kind of justice, in restoring 
freedom, which is the only imperishable value of history. Men are 
never really willing to die except for the sake of freedom: therefore 
they do not believe in dying completely. 

The same reasoning can be applied to violence. Absolute non- 
violence is the negative basis of slavery and its acts of violence; 
systematic violence positively destroys the living community and the 
existence we receive from it. To be fruitful these two ideas must 
establish their limits. In history, considered as an absolute, violence 
finds itself legitimized; as a relative risk, it is the cause of a rupture in 
communication. It must therefore preserve, for the rebel, its pro- 
visional character of effraction and must always be bound, if it 
cannot be avoided, to a personal responsibility and to an immediate 
risk. Systematic violence is part of the order of things; in a certain 
sense, this is comforting. Fuhrerprinzip or historic reason, whatever 
order may establish it, reigns over the universe of things, not the 



universe of men. Just as the rebel considers murder as the limit 
which he must, if he is so inclined, consecrate by his own death, so 
violence can only be an extreme limit which combats another form of 
violence, as, for example, in the case of an insurrection. If an excess 
of injustice renders the latter inevitable, the rebel rejects violence in 
advance, in the service of a doarine or of a reason of State. Every 
historic crisis, for example, terminates in institutions. If we have no 
control over the institutions since we can define them, choose the 
ones for which we will fight, and thus bend our efforts towards their 
establishment. Authentic acts of rebellion will only consent to take 
up arms for institutions which limit violence, not for those which 
codify it. A revolution is not worth dying for unless it assures the 
immediate suppression of the death penalty; not worth going to 
prison for unless it refuses in advance to pass sentence without fixed 
terms. If rebel violence employs itself in the establishment of these 
institutions, announcing its aims as often as it can, it is the only way 
in which it can be really provisional. When the end is absolute, 
historically speaking, and when it is believed certain of realization, it 
is possible to go so far as to sacrifice others. When it is not, only one- 
self can be sacrificed, in the hazards of a struggle for the common 
dignity. Does the end justify the means ? That is possible. But what 
will justify the end ? To that question, which historic thought leaves 
pending, rebellion replies : the means. 

What does such an attitude signify in politics ? And, first of all, 
is it efficacious ? We must answer without hesitation, that it is the 
only attitude that is efficacious today. There are two sorts of effica- 
ciousness, that of the typhoon and that of the dew. Historic absolu- 
tism is not efficacious, it is efficient; it has seized and kept power. 
Once it is in possession of power, it destroys the only creative reality. 
Uncompromising and limited action, springing from rebellion, 
upholds the reality and only tries to extend it farther and farther. It 
is not said that this action cannot conquer. It is said that it runs the 
risk of not conquering and of dying. But either revolution will take 
this risk or it will confess that it is only the undertaking of a new set 
of masters, punishable by the same scorn. A revolution which is 



separated from honour betrays its origins which belong to the reign 
of honour. Its choice, in any case, is limited to material expediency 
and final annihilation, or to taking risks and thus to creation. The 
revolutionaries of the past went ahead as fast as they could and their 
optimism was complete. But today, the revolutionary spirit has 
grown in knowledge and clear-sightedness; it has behind it a hundred 
and fifty years of experience. Moreover, the revolution has lost its 
illusions of being a public hoUday. It is, entirely on its own, a pro- 
digious calculation, which embraces the entire universe. It knows, 
even though it does not always say so, that it will be worldwide or that 
it will not be at all. Its chances are balanced against the risk of a 
universal war which, even in the case of victory, will only present it 
with an empire of ruins. It can remain faithful to its nihilism, and 
incarnate in the charnel houses the ultimate reason of history. Then 
it will be necessary to renounce everything except the silent music 
which will again transfigure the terrestrial hell. But the revolutionary 
spirit in Europe can also, for the first and last time, refiect upon its 
principles, ask itself what the deviation is which leads it from its path 
into terror and into war, and rediscover with the reasons of its 
rebellion, its faith in itself. 

Moderation and Excess 

The errors of contemporary revolution are first of all explained by 
the ignorance or systematic misconception of the limit which seems 
inseparable from human nature and which rebellion accurately 
reveals. Nihilist thought, because it neglects this frontier, ends by 
precipitating itself into a uniformly accelerated movement. Nothing 
stops it any longer in its course and it reaches the point of justifying 
total destruction or indefinite conquest. We know at the end of this 
long inquiry into rebellion and nihilism that rebellion with no other 
limits but historical expediency signifies unlimited slavery. To escape 
this fate, the revolutionary mind, if it wants to remain alive, must 
therefore return again to the sources of rebellion and draw its inspira- 
tion from the only system of thought which is faithful to its origins; 
thought which recognizes limits. If the limit discovered by rebellion 
transfigures everything; if every thought, every action which goes 
beyond a certain point negates itself, there is in elffect a measure by 
which to judge events and men. In history, as in psychology, rebellion 
is an irregular pendulum which swings in an erratic arc because it is 
looking for its most perfect and profound rhythm. But its irregularity 
is not total: it functions around a pivot. At the same time that it 
suggests a nature common to all men, rebellion brings to light the 
measure and the limit which are the very principle of this nature. 

Every reflection today, whether nihilist or positivist, gives birth, 
sometimes without knowing it, to standards which science itself 
confirms. The quantum theory, relativity, the uncertainty of inter- 
relationships define a world which has no definable reality except on 
the scale of average greatness which is our own. The ideologies which 
guide our world were bom in the time of absolute scientific discov- 
eries on the grand scale. Our real knowledge, on the other hand, only 
justifies a system of thought based on relative greatness. ‘Intelli- 
gence’, says Lazare Bickel, ‘is our faculty for not developing what 



we think to the very end, so that we can still believe in reality.* 
Approximative thought is the only creator of reality. 

The very forces of matter, in their blind advance, impose their 
own limits. That is why it is useless to want to reverse the advance of 
technology. The age of the spinning-wheel is over and the dream of a 
civilization of artisans is vain. The machine is only bad in the way 
that it is now employed. Its benefits must be accepted even if its 
ravages are rejected. The truck, driven day and night, does not 
humiliate the driver, who knows it inside out and treats it with 
affection and effidency. The real and inhuman excess lies in the 
division of labour. But, by dint of this excess, a day comes when a 
machine capable of a hundred operations, operated by one man 
creates one sole object. This man, on a different scale, will have 
partially rediscovered the power of creation which he possessed in 
the days of the artisan. The anonymous producer then draws nearer 
to the creator. It is not certain, naturally, that industrial excess will 
immediately take to this path. But it already demonstrates, by the 
way that it functions, the necessity for moderation and gives rise to 
reflections on the proper way to organize this moderation. Either this 
value of limitation will be realized, or contemporary excesses will only 
find their principle and peace in universal destruction. 

This law of moderation equally well extends to all the contradic- 
tions of rebellious thought. The real is not entirely rational, nor is the 
rational entirely real. As we have seen in regard to surrealism, the 
desire for unity does not only demand that everything should be 
rational. It also wishes that the irrational should not be sacrificed. 
One cannot say that nothing has any meaning because, in doing so, 
one affirms a value sanctified by an opinion; not that everything has a 
meaning since the word ‘everytlung^ has no signification for us. The 
irrational imposes limits on the rational which, in its turn, gives it 
moderation. Something has a meaning, finally, which we must obtain 
from meaninglessness. In Ae s^^^yj^c^qt be s^ existe nce 

takes j)lace on ly on tl^ level of essence. Where could one perceive 
essence except on the level of existence and evolution ? But nor can it 
be said that being is only existence. Something that is always in the 



process of development could not exist - there must be a beginning. 
Being can only prove itself in development and development is 
nothing without being. The world is not in a condition of pure 
stability; but it is only movement. It is both movement and stability. 
The historical dialectic, for example, is not in continuous pursuit of 
an unknown value. It revolves around the limit which is its prime 
value. Heraclitus, the inventor of the constant change of things, 
nevertheless set a limit to this perpetual process. This limit was sym- 
bolized by Nemesis, the goddess of moderation and the implacable 
enemy of the immoderate. A process of thought which wanted to take 
into account the contemporary contradictions of rebellion should 
seek its inspiration from this goddess. 

As for the moral contradictions, they too begin to become soluble 
in the light of this conciliatory value. Virtue cannot separate itself 
from reality without becoming a principle of evil. Nor can it identify 
itself completely with reality without denying itself. The moral value 
brought to light by rebellion, finally, is no farther above life and 
history than history and life are above it. In actual truth, it assumes 
no reality in history until man gives his life for it or dedicates himself 
entirely to it. Jacobin and bourgeois civilization presumes that values 
are above history and its formal virtues then lay the foundation of a 
repugnant form of mystification. The revolution of the twentieth 
century decrees that values are intermingled with the movement of his- 
tory and that their historic foundations justify a new form of mystifica- 
tion. Moderation, confronted with this irregularity, teaches us that at 
least one part of realismis necessary to every ethic : unadulterated virtue, 
pure and simple, is homicidal. That is why humanitarian cant has no 
more basis than cynical provocation. Finally, man is not entirely to 
blame, it was not he who started history; nor is he entirely innocent 
since he continues it. Those who go beyond this limit and affirm his 
total innocence end in the insanity of definitive culpability. Rebellion, 
on the contrary, sets us on the path of calculated culpability. Its sole 
but invincible hope is incarnated, in the final analysis, in innocent 

At this limit, the ‘We are’ paradoxically defines a new form of 



individualism. ‘We are’ in terms of history, and history must reckon 
with this ‘We are’ which must, in its turn, keep its place in history. I 
have need of others who have need of me and of each other. Every 
collective action, every form of society supposes a discipline and the 
individual, without this discipline, is only a stranger, bowed down by 
the weight of an inimical collectivity. But society and discipline lose 
their direction if they deny the ‘we are’, I alone, in one sense, sup- 
port the common dignity that I cannot allow either myself or others 
to debase. This individualism is in no sense pleasure, it is perpetual 
struggle and, sometimes, unparalleled joy when it reaches the heights 
of intrepid compassion. 


As for knowing if such an attitude can find political expression in the 
contemporary world, it is easy to evoke - and this is only an example 
- what is traditionally called revolutionary trade unionism. Cannot it 
be said that even this trade unionism is ineffectual ? The answer is 
simple : it is this movement alone which, in one century, is responsible 
for the enormously improved condition of the workers from the six- 
teen-hour day to the forty-hour week. The ideological empire has 
turned socialism back on its tracks and destroyed the greater part of 
the conquests of trade unionism. It is because trade unionism started 
from a concrete basis, the basis of professional employment (which is 
to the economic order what the masses are to the political order), the 
living cell on which the organism builds itself, while the Caesarian 
revolution starts from doarine and forcibly introduces reality into it. 
Trade unionism, like the masses, is the negation, to the benefit of 
reality, of bureaucratic and abstract centralism. The revolution of the 
twentieth century, on the contrary, claims to base itself on economics, 
but is primarily political and ideological. It cannot, by its very func- 
tion, avoid terror and violence done to reality. Despite its pretensions, 
it begins in the absolute and attempts to mould reality. Rebellion, 



inversely, relies on reality to assist it in its perpetual struggle for 
truth. The former tries to realize itself from top to bottom, the latter 
from bottom to top. Far from being a form of romanticism, rebellion, 
on the contrary, takes the part of true realism. If it wants a revolution, 
it wants it on behalf of life not in defiance of it. That is why it relies 
primarily on the most concrete realities - on occupation, on the 
country village, where the living heart of things and of men are to be 
found. Politics, to satisfy the demands of rebellion, must submit to the 
eternal verities. Finally, when it causes history to advance and allevi- 
ates the sufferings of mankind, it does so without terror, if not without 
violence, and in the most dissimilar political conditions. 

But this example goes farther than it seems. On the very day when 
the Caesarian revolution triumphed over the syndicalist and liber- 
tarian spirit, revolutionary thought lost, in itself, a counterpoise of 
which it cannot, without decaying, deprive itself. This counterpoise, 
this spirit which takes the measure of life, is the same which animates 
the long tradition that can be called solitary thought and in which, 
since the time of the Greeks, nature has always been weighed against 
evolution. The history of the first International when German 
socialism ceaselessly fought against the libertarian thought of the 
French, the Spanish, and the Italian, is the history of the struggle of 
German ideology against the Mediterranean mind. The masses 
against the State, concrete society against absolutist society, deli- 
berate freedom against rational tyranny, finally, altruistic individua- 
lism against the colonization of the masses, are thus the contradictions 
which express, once again, the endless opposition of moderation to 
excess which has animated the history of the Occident since the time 
of the ancient world. The profound conflict of this century is, per- 
haps, not so much between the German ideologies of history and 
Christian political concepts, which in a certain way are accomplices, 
as between German dreams and Mediterranean traditions, between 
the violence of eternal adolescence and virile strength, between 
nostalgia, rendered more acute by knowledge and by books and 
courage reinforced and enlightened by the experience of life - in 
other words, between history and nature. But German ideology, in 



this sense, has come into an inheritance. It consummates two cen- 
turies of abortive struggle against Nature, first in the name of an 
historic god and then of a deified history. Christianity, no doubt, was 
only unable to conquer its catholicity by assimilating as much as it 
could of Greek thought. But when the Church dissipated its Medi- 
terranean heritage, it placed the emphasis on history to the detriment 
of Nature, caused the Gothic to triumph over the Roman, and, 
destroying a limit in itself, has made increasing claims to temporal 
power and historic dynamism. When Nature ceases to be an object of 
contemplation and admiration it can then be nothing more than 
material for an action which aims at transferring it. These tendencies 
- and not the concepts of mediation which would have comprised the 
real strength of Christianity - are triumphing in modem times, to the 
detriment of Christianity itself, by an inevitable turn of events. That 
God should, in fact, be expelled from this historic universe and 
German ideology be bom where action is no longer a process of 
perfection but pure conquest is an expression of tyranny. 

But historic absolutism, despite its triumphs, has never ceased to 
come into collision with an irrepressible demand of human nature of 
which the Mediterranean, where intelligence is intimately related to 
the blinding fight of the sun, guards the secret. Rebellious thought, 
that of the Commune or of revolutionary trade unionism, has never 
ceased to deny this demand in the face of bourgeois nihilism as well 
as of Caesarian socialism. Authoritarian thought, by means of three 
wars and thanks to the physical destruction of a revolutionary elite, 
has succeeded in submerging this libertarian tradition. But this barren 
victory is only provisional, the battle still continues. Europe has never 
been free of this struggle between darkness and fight. It has only 
degraded itself by deserting the struggle and eclipsing day by night. 
The destmction of this equilibrium is, today, bearing its bitterest 
fmits. Deprived of our means of mediation, exiled from natural 
beauty, we are once again in the world of the Old Testament, emshed 
between a cruel Pharaoh and an implacable heaven. 

In the common condition of misery, the eternal demand is heard 
again; Nature once more takes up the fight against history. Naturally, 



of course, it is not a question of despising anything, or of exalting one 
civilization at the expense of another, but of simply sa3nng that it is a 
process of thought which the world today cannot do without for very 
much longer. There is, undoubtedly, in the Russian people something 
by which to endow Europe with the strength of sacrifice, and in 
America an absolutely essential power of production. But the youth 
of the world always find themselves standing on the same shore. 
Thrown into the unworthy melting-pot of Europe where, deprived of 
beauty and friendship, the proudest of races is gradually dying, we 
Mediterraneans live by the same light. In the depths of the European 
night, solar thought, civilization with a double face, awaits its dawn. 
But it already illuminates the paths of real mastery. 

Real mastery consists of creating justice out of the prejudices of 
the time, initially out of the deepest and most malignant of them 
which would like to reduce man, after his deliverance from excess, to 
a barren wisdom. It is very true that excess can be a form of sanctity 
when it is paid for by the madness of Nietzsche. But is this intoxica- 
tion of the soul which is exhibited on the scene of our culture always 
the madness of excess, the folly of attempting the impossible of 
which the brand can never be removed from he who has, once at 
least, abandoned himself to it ? Has Prometheus ever had this fana- 
tical or accusing aspea ? No, our civilization survives in the compla- 
cency of cowardly or malignant minds - a sacrifice to the vanity of 
ageing adolescents. Lucifer also has died with God, and from his 
ashes has arisen a spiteful demon who does not even understand the 
object of his venture. In 1953, excess is always a comfort, and some- 
times a career. Moderation, on the one hand, is nothing but pure 
tension. It smiles, no doubt, and our convulsionists, dedicated to 
elaborate apocalypses, despise it. But its smile shines brightly at the 
dimax of an interminable effort: it is in itself a supplementary source 
of strength. Why do these petty-minded Europeans who show us an 
avaridous face, if they no longer have the strength to smile, daim 
that their desperate convulsions are examples of superiority ? 

The real madness of excess dies or creates its own moderation. It 
does not cause the death of others in order to create an aUbi for itself. 



In its most extreme manifestations, it finds its limit on which, Uke 
Kaliayev, it saaifices itself if necessary. Moderation is not the op- 
posite of rebellion. Rebellion in itself is moderation, and it demands, 
defends, and re-creates it throughout history and its eternal dis- 
turbances. The very origin of this value guarantees us that it can only 
be partially destroyed. Moderation, bom of rebellion, can only live 
by rebellion. It is a perpetual conflict, continually created and mas- 
tered by the intelligence. It does not triumph either in the impossible 
or in the abyss. It finds its equihbrium through them. Whatever we 
may do, excess will always keep its place in the heart of man, in the 
place where solitude is found. We all carry within us our places of 
exile, our crimes, and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them 
on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others. Rebellion, 
the secular will not to surrender of which Barr^ speaks, is still, 
today, at the basis of the struggle. Origin of form, source of real life, 
it keeps us always erect in the savage formless movement of history. 

Beyond Nihilism 

There does exist, therefore, a way of acting and of thinking, for 
man, which is possible on the level of moderation to which he belongs. 
Every undertaking which is more ambitious than this proves to be 
contradictory. The absolute is not attained, not, above all, created, 
through history. Politics is not religion, or, if it is, then it is nothing 
but the Inquisition. How would society define an absolute ? Perhaps 
everyone is looking for this absolute on behalf of all. But society and 
politics only have the responsibility of arranging everyone’s affairs so 
that each will have the leisure and the freedom to pursue this com- 
mon search. History can then no longer be presented as an object of 
worship. It is only an opportunity which must be rendered fruitful by 
a vigilant rebellion. 

‘Obsession with the harvest and indifference to history’, writes 
Rend Char admirably, ‘are the two extremities of my bow.’ If the 
duration of history is not synonymous with the duration of the har- 
vest, then history, in effect, is no more than a fleeting and cruel 
shadow in which man has no more part. He who dedicates himself to 
this history dedicates himself to nothing and, in his turn, is nothing. 
But he who dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the house 
he builds, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates himself to the earth 
and reaps from it the harvest which sows its seed and sustains the 
world again and again. Finally, it is those who know how to rebel, at 
the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its 
interests. To rebel against it supposes an interminable tension and 
the agonized serenity of which Ren6 Char also speaks. But the true 
life is present in the heart of this dichotomy. Life is this dichotomy 
itself, the mind soaring over volcanoes of light, the madness of jus- 
tice, the extenuating intransigence of moderation. The words which 
reverberate for us at the confines of this long adventure of rebellion, 
are not formulae for optimism, for which we have no possible use 



in the extremities of our unhappiness, but words of courage and 
intelligence which, on the shores of the eternal seas, even have the 
qualities of virtue. 

No possible form of wisdom today can claim to give more. Rebel- 
lion indefatigably confronts evil, from which it can only derive a new 
impetus. Man can master, in himself, everything that should be 
mastered. He should rectify in creation everything that can be 
rectified. And after he has done so, children will still die unjustly even 
in a perfect society. Even by his greatest effort, man can only propose 
to diminish, arithmetically, the sufferings of the world. But the 
injustice and the suffering of the world will remain and, no matter 
how limited they are, they will not cease to be an outrage. Dmitri 
Karamazov’s cry of ‘Why?’ will continue to resound through 
history; art and rebellion will only die with the death of the last man 
on earth. 

There is an evil, undoubtedly, which men accumulate m their 
passionate desire for unity. But yet another evil lies at the roots of 
this confused movement. Confronted with this evil, confronted with 
death, man from the very depths of his soul cries out for justice. 
Historic Christianity has only replied to this protest against evil by 
the Anmmciation of the Edngdom and then of Eternal Life - accom- 
panied by a demand for faith. But suffering exhausts hope and faith 
and then is left alone and unexplained. The toiling masses, worn out 
with suffering and death, are masses without God. Our place is 
henceforth at their side, far from teachers, old or new. Historic 
Christianity postpones, to a point beyond the span of history, the cure 
of evil and murder which are, nevertheless, experienced within the 
span of history. Contemporary materialism also believes that it can 
answer all questions. But, as a slave to history, it increases the 
domain of historic murder and at the same time leaves it without any 
justification, except in the future - which again demands faith. In 
both cases one must wait and, meanwhile, the innocent continue to 
die. For twenty centuries the sum-total of evil has not diminished in 
the world. No paradise, whether divine or revolutionary, has been 
realized An injustice remains inextricably bound to all suffering, 



even the most deserved in the eyes of men. The long silence of 
Prometheus has seen, with the passage of time, men rail and turn 
against him. Crushed between human evil and destiny, between 
terror and the arbitrary, all that remains to him is his power to rebel 
in order to save from murder he who can still be a murderer, without 
surrendering to the arrogance of blasphemy. 

Then we understand that rebellion cannot exist without a strange 
form of love. Those who find no rest in God or in histoi*y are con- 
demned to live for those who, like themselves, camtot live: in fact, for 
the humiliated. The most pure form of the movement of rebellion is 
thus crowned with the heart-rending cry of Karamazov : if all are not 
saved, what good is the salvation of one only ? Thus Catholic pri- 
soners, in the prison cells of Spain, refuse communion today because 
the priests of the regime have made it obhgatory in certain prisons. 
These lonely witnesses to the crucifixion of innocence refuse salva- 
tion, too, if it must be paid for by injustice and oppression. This 
insane generosity is the generosity of rebellion, which unhesitating 
gives the strength of its love and refuses injustice without a moment’s 
delay. Its merit lies in making no calculations, distributing everything 
that it possesses to life and to Hving men. It is thus that it is prodigal 
in its gifts to men to come. Real generosity towards the future lies in 
giving all to the present. 

Rebellion proves, in this way, that it is the very movement of life 
and that it cannot be denied without renouncing life. Its purest out- 
burst, on each occasion, gjves birjh to existence. Thus, it is love and 
fecundity or it is nothing at all^^volution without honour, calcu- 
lated revolution which, in preferrmg an abstract concept of man to a 
man of flesh and blood, denies existence as many times as is necessary, 
puts resentment in the place of love, immediately rebellion, forgetful 
of its generous origins, allows itself ttJoc contaminated by resentment, 
it denies life, dashes towards destruction, and raises up the grimacing 
cohorts of petty rebels, embryo slaves all of them, who end by 
offering themselves for sale, in all the market-places of Europe, to no 
matter^hat form of servitude. It is no longer either revolution or 
rebellion but'rancour, malice, and tyranny. Then, when revolution 



in the name of power and of history becomes that immoderate and 
mechanical murderer, a new rebellion is consecrated in the name of 
moderation and of life. We are at the extremity now. However, at the 
end of this tunnel of darkness, there is inevitably a light, which we 
already divine and for which we only have to fight to ensure its 
coming. All of us, among the ruins, are preparing a renaissance 
beyond the limits of nihilism. But few of us know it. 

Already, in fact, rebellion without claiming to solve everything can 
at least pretend to do so. From this moment, high noon is borne away 
on the fast-moving stream of history. Around the devouring flames, 
shadows writhe in mortal combat for an instant of time and then as 
suddenly disappear and the blind, fingering their eyelids, cry out that 
this is history. The men of Europe, abandoned to the shadows, have 
turned their backs upon the fixed and radiant point of the present. 
They forget the present for the future, the fate of humanity for the 
delusion of power, the misery of the slums for the mirage of the 
Eternal City, ordinary justice for an empty promised land. They 
despair of personal freedom and dream of a strange freedom of the 
species; reject solitary death and give the name of immortality to a 
vast collective agony. They no longer believe in the things that exist 
in the world and in living man; the secret of Europe is that it no 
longer loves life. Its blind men entertain the puerile belief that to love 
one single day of life amounts to justifying whole centuries of oppres- 
sion. That is why they wanted to efface joy from the world and to 
postpone it until a much later date. Impatience with limits, the 
rejection of their double life, despair at being a man have finally 
driven them to inhuman excesses. Denying the real grandeur of Hfe, 
they have had to stake all on their own excellence. For want of some- 
thing better to do, they deified themselves and their misfortune began ; 
these gods have had their eyes put out. Kaliayev, and his brothers 
throughout the entire world, refuse, on the contrary, to be deified m 
that they reject the unlimited power to inflict death. They choose, and 
we offer as an example, the only original rule of life today: to learn 
to live and to die, and in order to be a man, to refuse to be a god. 



Li this noon of thought, the rebel thus disclaims divinity in order 
to share in the struggles and destiny of all men. We shall choose 
Ithaca, the faithful land, frugal and audacious thought, ludd action, 
the generosity of the man who understands. In the light, the earth 
remains our first and our last love. Our brothers are breathing under 
the same sky; justice is a living thing. Now is bom that strange joy 
which helps one live and die, and which we shall never again renounce 
to a later time. On the sorrowing earth it is the unresting thorn, the 
bitter food, the harsh wind off the sea, the ancient dawn forever 
renewed. With this joy, through long struggle, we shall remake the 
soul of om time, and a Europe which wiU exclude nothing. Not even 
that phantom Nietzsche who, for twelve years after his downfall, was 
continually invoked by the West as the mined image of its loftiest 
knowledge and its nihilism; nor the prophet of justice vdthout mercy 
who rests, by mistake, in the unbelievers’ plot at Highgate Cemetery; 
nor the deified mummy of the man of action in his glass cofihi; nor 
any part of what the intelligence and energy of Europe have cease- 
lessly furnished to the pride of a contemptible period. All may indeed 
live again, side by side with the martyrs of 1905, but on condition 
that they shall understand how they correct one another, and that a 
limit, under the sun, shall curb them all. Each tells the other that he 
is not God; this is the end of romanticism. At this moment, when 
each of us must fit an arrow to his bow and enter the lists anew, to 
reconquer, within history and in spite of it, that which he owns 
already, the thin yield of his fields, the brief love of this earth, at this 
moment when at last a man is bom, it is time to forsake our age and 
its adolescent rages. The bow bends; the wood complains. At the 
moment of supreme tension, there will leap into flight an unswerving 
arrow, a shaft that is inflexible and free. 


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Novels and Stories ty Albert Camus 


Meursault is a young man who lives in the usual manner of a French- 
Algerian, middle-class bachelor ... but he has a glaring fault in the 
eyes of society - he seems to lack the basic emotions and reactions 
(including hypocrisy) that are required of him. He observes the facts 
of life, death, and sex from the outside. 

‘ Seldom have I read a work which says so much in so short a space ’ - 
John Betjeman. 


The Times described it as a ‘carefully wrought metaphysical novel the 
machinery of which can be compared to a Sophoclean tragedy. The 
plague in question afflicted Oran in the 1940s; and on one plane the 
book is a straight-forward narrative. Into it, however, can be read all 
Qunus’s native anxieties, centred on the idea of plague as a symbol.’ 
The symbol is that of the German occupation of France against which 
Camus fought so heroically during the war. 


Jean-Baptiste Clamence appeared to himself and to others the epitome 
of good citizenship and decent behaviour. Suddenly he sees through 
the deep-seated hypocrisy of his existence to the condescension which 
motivates his every action. He turns to debauchery, and finally settles 
in Amsterdam where, a self-styled ‘judge penitent’, he describes his 
fall to a chance acquaintance. 


These six short stories show the same qualities that won a Nobel Prize 
for Literature for the late Albert Camus. Four of them are set in Algiers 
on the fringes of the desert - an environment which has often been 
associated with deep mystical and emotional experience. 



Class No. 

Author Camus. 

Title The zrebel 

*5r^rfccT ?f^2Tr 

Acc No. _ 

Book No. _ 

Alber-t . 



C 4 im 






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